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Issue #87

Focus on progress, not perfection.

July is almost over. Where did the first half of the year go? If you’re anything like me, you started the year with big ideas and ambitious goals. But, 7 months after, you haven’t seen as much progress as you’d like. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work, and to delay those long-term projects until "later”. 

Last week I had time to check in on my goals, and figure out how to make the most of the rest of the year. But one idea kept coming to my mind. The idea of progress as an alternative to perfection.  

I’ve always been proud to be a perfectionist, but recently I realised that my perfectionism is just fear of failure. It's fear of not being good enough, of not meeting other's expectations. According to the wise words of Julia Cameron, perfection “is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough - that we should try again.” Brené Brown goes even further by stating that perfectionism “is often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis. Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think?" 

Perfectionism is not a quest for the best after all. Perfectionism is black or white, progress is shades of grey. Perfectionism is an endless loop, progress is decisive action. Perfection doesn’t make room for failure, progress is built on mistakes. Perfectionism is paralysing, progress is liberating. Perfection is tomorrow, progress is today. 

But why is the idea progress so interesting to me? A number of reasons:
  • Progress is a humbling act. You acknowledge it’s impossible to make anything perfect at first try and instead you focus on improving it over time. You focus on making small everyday progress, constantly experimenting and iterating. 
  • Progress is a movement towards a goal, it forces you to have clarity about what you want. You’d never get in your car with no idea where you’re going, but we do this all the time in life. Progress towards a goal is rarely a direct route but you always need to have a clear destination. Just like driving.
  • You cannot make progress without making decisions. It forces you to be decisive and assertive.
  • When you’re focused on progress you value every achievement, even the small ones. You celebrate progress, not just big wins.

Progress becomes an even more interesting concept when you look at it from a business perspective. Today, mainstream economic thinking can still be boiled down to a single word: growth. In his book “Sapiens”, Yuval Noah Harari explains it better: "The modern capitalist economy must constantly increase production if it is to survive, like a shark that must swim or suffocate.” But “when growth becomes a supreme good, unrestricted by any other ethical considerations, it can easily lead to catastrophe.”

The way I see it, progress is a much better goal than (mindless) growth. Growth is an increase in size, number, value, or strength, while progress is a movement or advancement through time. Progress means that we make things better for ourselves, but also for others. It means that we progress but help the world progress as well.

This week I selected 3 articles related to the idea of progress in some way. The first makes the case for adopting a mindset of radical pragmatism, the second article is about progress at scale at Amazon, and the final one explains why progress needs diversity of thought.

Have a great week,

3 stories worth sharing this week:

How to Beat Perfectionism


📝Ryan Holiday
The first iPhone was revolutionary, but it still shipped without a copy-and-paste function or a handful of other features Apple would have liked to include. Steve Jobs, that supposed perfectionist, knew that at some point you have to compromise. He thought like a radical pragmatists — ambitious, aggressive, and rooted in ideals, but also imminently practical and guided by the possible. Not thinking small, but making the distinction between the critical and the extra.

Want To Innovate Like Amazon? Here’s Their Formula


Amazon, now a trillion-dollar company, seems to be speeding up their rate of innovation as they continue to grow, defying the "Law of Large Companies". Their approach to innovating at scale has 3 overarching principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus; hire builders and pioneers with a willingness to fail; focus on the long-term rather than the short term. It’s also a function of 4 factors - architecture, organization, mechanisms and culture - which the article explains in more detail.

How To Make Progress When No One Agrees


Pursuing consensus is a guarantee that an organization will move slowly, creating frustration and dysfunction at every level of the company. Adopting resilience, however, is a strategy for making progress without the need for consensus. We don’t need to agree on everything about the business, or even the best next move, but we all need to agree that disagreement is a key element of how high-performing teams operate. Cultivating the stretch and flex needed to accept the views of others, and make progress not only in spite of, but also because of dissent.

📈 Stat of the week:

Talking about progress: in the first six months of 2019, sun, wind, water and biomass produced more electricity in the world's fourth largest economy than coal and nuclear combined. Source

💬 A quote I'm thinking about:

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

C.S. Lewis

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MADvice is curated by Filipe in Lisbon, Portugal.
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