Is Perfection Possible?


One of the greatest coaches in history, Vince Lombardi, once said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

We love Lombardi but in this instance we profoundly disagree. We believe that perfection is all around us. That said, we do believe that perfection is fleeting, given that the universe—and the nature of the reality in which we live and work – is in a constant state of flux.

In particular, physicist Per Bak formulated the notion of self-organized criticality in physical and physiological applications, and the academic literature increasingly shows important applications of criticality approaches in economics and psychology. Self-organized criticality views nature as perpetually out of balance, although temporarily organized in a stable state according to well-defined statistical laws. In other words, the theory that nature is in constant harmony is simply untrue. Instead, Bak proposes that systems with many components are actually in a state of constant imbalance. This also applies to the business world, so what worked for leaders before may not work in the future.

So, we advise our clients to think in terms of “Improvement, advancement, and innovation.” Constant learning and improvement are always possible, and in fact are necessary for remaining completive and relevant in this ever-changing world. As a result, learning and improvement should be the driving force of your leadership.

The leaders we interviewed for our book, Loneliness of Leadership, suggested a number of strategies for constant improvement. Maybe you have others to share as well, but consider these time-tested strategies to get started and to share with your teams:

  • Never believe your own marketing or hype
  • Always be shopping your own business, as well as your competition
  • Be a veracious reader, ideas will abound
  • Always be refining SOPs and efficiencies
  • Don’t be afraid of change, embrace ambiguity as a friend – it allows for increased creativity and interpretation.
  • Don’t get complacent
  • Look at other innovative companies and people and apply lessons to your business or life
  • Hire a coach and take risks on new ways of thinking or acting
  • Set goals and measurements for success
  • Spend some quality “alone” time. Solitude is productive, while loneliness can be corrosive
  • Practice the little things, success is about the details
  • Ask for help
  • Build a strong network of constituents (the true believers)
  • Build true partnerships