Why Imperfect is so Perfect

When trying to solve a problem, exploit a new opportunity, or hire someone for your team, too often we look for the perfect solution. I feel like this is one of our core human resourcing issues these days when faced with a deluge of applicants, bots and filters keep candidate pools manageable. Or when it comes to solving a challenge we get blocked by getting everything right instead of just getting started.

Let me make the argument that usually the imperfect option is usually the perfect one.

Problem Statement. Figuring out the solution to problems first normally involves defining the problem statement. This is where the team, or yourself, look to exhaustively clarify and articulate the problem, its causes, factors, and then brainstorm potential solutions. The problem is, very, very few of us, if any, can leave our biases to the side and get it right. Most of the time you can get 80-90% right, but rarely 100%, and it might just be the last 20% that makes the entire problem look different. It we can’t fully articulate the problem, our perfect solution won’t be a fit.

Delays Getting Started. There’s a reason the tech industry loves the mantra, “fail fast and fail often” is that it inspires action without complete information. More than any other industry, tech’s most limited resource is time (by the way as mortal humans, it’s ours as well). So if you wait until you find the perfect solution the market has moved on and often you’re left in the dust. You’re going to learn a whole bunch more through iteration than analysis, so get some basic instructions and jump head first in the deep end. Spend six months waiting for the perfect candidate to walk in the door and you’re now six months behind on the task/project/product that person was going to solve.

Things Change. Even if you could come up with a perfect solution, as you start to implement and live with your decision, the world keeps changing. Most of the time change is slow but when you look at things over longer horizons you can see they change a lot. One good example would be our use of Facebook. How much has your usage changed in the last month? Probably not much. What about five years ago? What about ten years ago? Back in 2007, most millennials were still in high school and I’m sure they’re embarrassed by how much Facebook influenced their life. Now they don’t use it so clearly things change a lot. So even if you could find the perfect solution today, it might not work in a year, or five years from now. Take the long view. Hire someone that works today and well into the future.

Past is not the Future. Looking at your historical data doesn’t help you see the future – it only helps you to understand the past. If you’re good at marketing it’s easy to see that causality is difficult, if not impossible, to prove. Run one ad and see the result. Run the ad again and get a different result. The market doesn’t live in a petri dish and is nuanced and fickle. There are thousands of factors that impact the conversion rate of an email. At the macro level there’s the messaging, the design, the call to action. At the micro level there’s “what I’m doing when I look at this email”, what’s my current mood, or it is a busy part of my day. Your next job is different from your past ones. Everything is different except your name and the title on your business card.

Innovation Lives in the Fringes. In my view the most important, especially as part of the hiring process, reason to avoid the perfect candidate is that innovative ideas usually live on the fringes of the obvious. Perfect candidates for a particular role can 110% do the job day one. They have a great deal of historical knowledge that helps them quickly diagnose a situation and come up with a quick and often over-confident solution. This approach can result in peril. Sometimes knowing less is better than knowing it all. Knowing less means you’re more likely to explore unconventional ideas, try something completely new, and might just find a completely new growth strategy. When I joined Water.org, knowing virtually nothing about grassroots fundraising, we explored a good many unconventional ideas. One of which was to in fact NOT ask for money. And every year I was there, we raised more and more money.

The world is imperfect. I’m imperfect, you’re imperfect, your company’s imperfect – and that’s all okay. As I navigate this career search I’m looking for an imperfect place to work, that’s willing to take a chance on me just the way I am. I have a great deal of expertise at nonprofits, tech, growing organizations, marketing, leading great teams, plus a lot more but I’m far from perfect. Which of course means we’re perfect for each other.