Saturday, February 21, 2009

Practice makes perfect

I've seen so many grad students and friends who think that they need to be perfect in everything they do. For some non-understandable reason, this is more apparent in girls than guys. I've known girls who are so much of a "perfect home" freak that I really don't want to go to their houses for partying. We try not to have their houses as party venues simply because those friends(yeah, the neat freaks) would never completely relax and would be surreptitiously glancing at all that the guests do. If someone spills some juice or food, even before the person who split it realizes it and gets a paper towel(most of my friends are humanly clean - and that is a BIG statement for grad students), they'd be there with the paper roll. At best, it doesn't let us relax too. At worst, it creates unnecessary friction. Anyways, there are also others who just don't turn in papers or projects till the last minute simply because they are perfecting the draft. There are some extreme cases where people think about doing something perfectly but are afraid of turning in a good work; they want their work to be perfect with every i dotted and every t crossed. The sad thing is they finally don't get to do even moderate work. Lots of sophomores and juniors would attest to this fact.

I'm not sure if people start becoming complacent once they leave school for I've not heard about many people at work bothering so much about perfection. But one of my friends says that there is a guy in her office who never gives presentations to his group about his work because he wants to give the 'perfect' presentation. His manager is tired of asking him to do the presentation and finally went around to assign him work with another person as a smaller team. My friend says that being in that smaller team is hard because that guy expects perfection in every step and would never let the project complete at the right time. It would inevitably get delayed and they'd rush through in the last minute producing a poorer quality work. But the irony of it all is that the guy would blame the teammate saying that the poor quality work was because they didn't concentrate on perfection in every step. Working with him is a sure stress-inducer! My friend had the misfortune of being his teammate last year for one of the projects and she went from being a calm person finishing work at the correct time to someone highly stressed. Thankfully, she is out of the project now. Her lessons from it were to factor in extra time and to clearly demarcate the responsibilities even inside a two member team. When she recounted this experience, I was reminded of the following story.

"The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."

So, practice makes perfect is a true adage. Stop theorizing your ideas and start "doing" it. I recently spoke to a friend and he said that he always want to do something. That is a good attitude. Do well or do moderately ok or even do badly, but do it. Like the tamil adage
"Chithiramum kai pazhakkam,
senthamizhum naapazhakam"
(The picture becomes perfect as you keep drawing it,
your tamil becomes perfect as you keep speaking it),
as you do something, you'll become more confident, you'll know how things are done and finally will achieve that excellence that you are aiming for. Just remember this: no one came into this world knowing everything that they do today. Everyone learned things only after being born. When someone else can do it, you can too! So, why wait? Do that project that you've been procrastinating for the past few months now. As time goes by, you'll see that you do more and more in your life; You'll be more satisfied with the entire outcome. And you'll finally reach that "perfect" thing, presentation, pottery and anything else!


Karthikeyan....KK said...

agree with you... start small, build/do something ( a reasonable level of acceptance ) and keep iterating to improve the quality of the solution.

Thats how startups work :).

Harish Nandagopal said...

Practice does bring in perfection, but how is perfection defined, depends on an individual..!!

alpine path said...

Karthikeyan, yup! But it takes all your patience to restrain yourself from becoming judgemental when you see someone chase after the 'perfect' mirage.

Harish, true! I'd think that most people's perfection levels would be in a similar range. My post is about people who cross that range and make life miserable for themselves and others. Welcome aboard! :)

Ridhus said...

hey, interesting post. While practice leading to perfection holds true in most cases, there are some cases where a yearning for perfection is definitely needed.

You can easily complete 90% of a work you are interested in, but it takes an effort to dot the i's and cross the t's,since it is boring work. I have always envied people who had that drive for perfection. For example in school exams you can go up to 80% if you know the subject well, but it requires the extra effort to ensure your paper is neat and diagrams are properly labeled to go beyond that.

Another examle of this, is say the cook at the corner shop who makes those perfect idlies and a celebrity chef. The cook got his perfection probably through years of practice where as the chef gets his perfection through conscious effort for presentation etc.

alpine path said...

Ridhus, very true. But there is a thin line between trying to be perfect and trying too hard to be perfect. I'm all for the first one but not for the second. But the line is different for everyone and I guess that is where the fun of life comes into picture. :)

Ann Sam said...

What an intriguing post!