I don’t mind if my doctors, pilots, lawyers, or pharmacists are perfectionists. Perfectionism is an admirable trait in those professions. In other fields perfection is less welcome. Parking meter patrolmen/women come to mind. As do nitpicking micromanagers, idealists who can make office life miserable.
Particularly in startups.
Before we define just what constitutes a perfectionist, let’s explore startup business culture. Successful startups evolve. Perfection is not a feasible, early-stage goal. Minimally viable products (MVPs), by definition, are products that will be refined or discarded as more funding is available or greater production volumes are achieved. Software is issued, then updated and patched as needed. Proof-of-concept efforts are designed to get products to consumers as soon as possible. Perfection can come later. Our initial Keurig brewers were classic examples of just such an approach.
So, if seeking perfection is not a realistic small business/startup goal, is there room for perfectionists in such a culture? It depends on the type of perfectionist. Psychologists have identified various types. One type is the self-oriented perfectionist, who pressures his/herself to perform unerringly. Another type, the other-oriented perfectionists, hold others to the highest of standards. There is little room for an other-oriented perfectionist in a small, cohesive business team. Few underpaid, overworked startup teams need a demanding Steve Jobs-like boss or co-worker. Thanks to Covid, there may be more room for self-oriented ones.
Studies show that perfectionists are viewed by co-workers as being less socially skilled and less friendly. However, these same studies often show that they are also viewed as being more competent than their “less motivated” colleagues. Therefore, having a few self-oriented perfectionists on a team may be less of a problem in a remote working environment, or in one that is not organized around small groups. In fact, these perfectionists may force some of their slacker peers to perform better.
One last point: While there may be room for perfectionists in certain startups and small businesses, there is no room for them in interviews. I am referring to that hackneyed answer to that even more cliched interview question: “What are your biggest weaknesses?” Responding to that platitudinous query by saying that your greatest weakness is your perfectionism is itself a form of perfection: A perfect storm of banality.
Don’t go there.
Peter has spent the past twenty-plus years as an acting/consulting CFO for a number of small businesses in a wide range of industries. Peter’s prior experience is that of a serial entrepreneur, managing various start-up and turnaround projects. He is a co-founder of Keurig.