Making Better Mistakes

“Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow.” — Alex King

For over 4 years, I’ve worked at Crowd Favorite. When I began working here, the company was solely-owned by Alex King. Though he is no longer with us, he serves as a role-model and an inspiration for much of my approach to my career, and I would feel remiss not expressing my thoughts on how he has influenced me.

About Alex

Alex was one of the best developers I’ve had the privilege to work with. He worked through the .com bubble in Silicon Valley, invented the share icon, helped develop the core blogging framework that would become WordPress, and built a reputation for excellence and pride both in his own work and in the work that was done within his company.

As a developer, and as an employer, Alex had high expectations on himself and his employees. He pushed everyone he worked with to do their best, almost always beyond their comfort and sometimes even beyond their limits. Very little that was less than perfect was good enough. More than once, I witnessed products we branded get delayed due to perfection paralysis. If it didn’t meet his vision, it wasn’t yet ready for it to be seen by others. Alex built his reputation on his excellence, on his demands, and that he would go to the same lengths for a client project that he would go to for his own. Nothing less than the best was good enough.

Despite that demand for excellence, Alex was more understanding than it may sound. He pushed for perfection, and he demanded excellence, but recognized that you cannot have such success without failures. He knew that failure can be a success, because we can learn from it, and accepted that those he hired may do things in ways that didn’t work out. This was especially true as he pushed us to expand our horizons, to go beyond the way things are done into the way things could be done better. Sometimes, we would iterate for significant time trying to figure something out, and still settle on doing it the way it’s been done before. This was valuable time, because we explored other options, we tested our assumptions, and we grew in our knowledge of our applications and our limitations.

Unfortunately, in 2013 Alex was diagnosed with cancer, and had to step away from the business, and from development as a whole. He fought a long battle, and ultimately passed away in September of this year. He left behind a wonderful family, and the remembrances and his ongoing influence among those who were fortunate enough to have worked with him.

“Let’s Make Better Mistakes Tomorrow.”

One of Alex’s most memorable sayings was “Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow,” and I’ve tried to keep that in mind as a I grow and develop professionally, and as a person. As demanding as Alex ever was on me, I have always had the tendency to be equally or more demanding on myself. I’ve had projects that intimidated me, where I felt myself failing before I began, and in those cases I then had to fight both my own fears and the demanded growth simultaneously. That fear only added a greater chance to fail without motivation to grow. Accepting the possibility of that failure, moving past that fear, was where I was able to grow.

I’m still not perfect, of course, nor do I want to be. Perfection has no room for growth, and represents stagnation. I don’t want to be perfect because I don’t want to stop growing, learning, adapting, and experiencing new things. Sometimes it can be difficult to push past that fear, but even that is another opportunity for growth and there is success just in getting past that point.

It can be a very big challenge to accept that things won’t always go well, or that we don’t start out fully competent at everything we do to the same level of excellence as others who have done it for years. It can be intimidating to put ourselves out there to be judged by those we consider superior within a field. It can be difficult to forgive ourselves the easy mistakes, and the missed opportunities, that come up as we develop. We can’t expect to be perfect. We can’t expect to ever know everything.

All we can demand of ourselves, all we can really push for, is to do our best and never stop trying. Let’s not stay in our comfort zone. Let’s get out there, learn, try new things, and make better mistakes tomorrow.

The Paralysis of Perfection

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” — Vince Lombardi

For over two years now I’ve owned the domain. For over two years it has sat dormant. There is so much potential, and so much available that I want to achieve, that I wanted to hold off until I got everything just right before revealing it to the world at large. And therein lies the problem. In seeking perfection, I allowed myself to slip into the comfortable view that having nothing is better than having something imperfect. That is the paralysis of perfection.

It’s easy, as a developer, designer, or client, to get into such a mindset. We want the world to see something in a very specific way, and have such expectations, that we would rather reveal only when it’s ready. I find that, too often, this leads to endless iteration, particularly when perfection is not something with clearly defined expectation and goals. Over the past two years I’ve gone through several cycles of evaluating designs, and implementing my own, but never finding the one that truly stood out to me as the perfect model of my design, and my unclear vision.

The Cost of Perfection

At a Mexican restaurant near my office, they have a saying painted on the wall: “Perfeccion tiene su precio.” (“Perfection has a price” in English). This is very true. Apart from the obvious financial components of this price, there are more intangible costs that we pay. On top of the simple costs of hours spent working on a design for this site and researching options, on top of the costs incurred by hosting and owning a domain but not providing any content, there was a price in knowledge.

Until now, I’ve not written anything on this site. However, that does not mean nothing has happened in the last two years. That does not mean there is nothing I’ve learned in the past two years. On the contrary, I’ve grown significantly, in both professional and personal capacities. I’ve had great ideas for posts and articles to write on my experiences. Those ideas are all lost now, casualties to my search for an ideal, and a more substantial cost to that quest. Perfection has cost me money, and cost me knowledge. The worst part is that paying the price for perfection does not mean perfection can be purchased. Perfection may never be achieved, but striving for it without practical concerns will ensure significant ongoing costs.

Perfection as an Ideal

Striving for perfection has a cost, and perfection may not ever be achieved, but that does not mean we should not try anyway. By reaching for the stars, we learn what our limits are. If we give ourselves measures that are impossible to match, we have a lasting gauge for our continued growth and personal improvement.

In that sense, desiring perfection is a laudable behavior. It comes down to the difference between recognizing when that perfection is being used as a measure for growth, and when it is being used instead to push us down and hold us back. For too long, perfection has become my expectation instead of my standard of measurement when it comes to this site, its contents, and its look and feel.

The price of perfection, as an expectation, has gotten too high, and it’s time to start the journey, and share that journey as it progresses, rather than only being willing to provide the results.