Perfection

I don’t consider myself a perfectionist. In fact, I can often be downright lazy. I write sloppy code sometimes. I am hasty with my artwork instead of thorough. I am always impatient to see the end result, regardless of what I am doing. (Oh, and my office is usually a mess.)

But when it comes to things that really matter, I have pretty high standards. When focused I can solve problems well and my attention to detail usually pays off. I am self-critical, which means I can improve.

I attended a Tufte talk earlier this year, and one thing that struck me was how dedicated he is to perfection. He phrases it in a different way, though, less assuming. “Do no harm.”

When creating something — art, code, prose — there is an immediate personal attachment to that thing. Not only is it difficult to see mistakes in it, it seems almost impossible to throw it out and start again. But you have to. The trick is to see the investment in time not as wasted, but as a necessary first step in getting to the final place.

Write half the novel and then rip it apart, let go of the parts that you know aren’t working and try again. Refactor, redesign, redraw.

One of the revolutions at Disney in the 30s and 40s wasn’t just incredible talent, it was things like paying the extra money to film pencil tests, so that animators could see their work as it would appear on screen and fix mistakes instead of shipping it off blindly to the distributor. No one else was doing that because it didn’t seem to make business sense. That is, until you saw the improved results. (Software usability testing is a lot like that, too.)

In a recent interview with Animated News, Andreas Deja talks about Walt and his high standards:

“It’s good to inspired by Walt and what he did, and his standards. He just had these high standards, he would just give the audience something that they didn’t expect, that was beyond what they thought they would get, always aiming higher. And that’s one of his traits, that’s something to really shoot for, to go the extra mile, do even better than people would expect of you. I think it goes along with being a good artist, you’re never satisfied. It’s never good enough. That’s just the way it is. I think with that attitude you learn.”

And with that, I’m off to create something instead of sleeping.