It’s almost always better to strive not for 100% perfection but for 99.7% completion. At Facebook, they work by the mantra that “done is better than perfect”. The implications of this are huge: when they create a product, they don’t waste time perfecting it and fixing every bug. Instead they get it out there as fast as they can appropriately accomplish in order to be able to invest their time into the next project. Also, I learned growing up that in Ancient Greece, whenever a building was completed, the architect would create a tiny dent on one of the columns so as to not anger the Gods by making a perfect masterpiece which would’ve been viewed as a threat and challenge to those deities living on Mount Olympus. When I first heard this story I thought it was stupid and I was surprised this practice came from the Ancient Greeks, a people who gave us democracy, philosophy, and baklava. But as I grew older, I realized there really is merit to this odd practice. Appeasing the Gods hid the psychology behind being 99.7% instead of 100%: striving for 100% risks negative consequences and side effects, including obsession, wasting time, backtracking, and frustration. But most importantly, so many of these endeavors we apply ourselves too are actually impossible to attain 100%, for even if we happen to achieve 100% we won’t even know it, and instead, we’re left consuming ourselves with something that has no end.
The monkey and the peas
A monkey was carrying two handful of peas. One little pea dropped out. He tried to pick it up, and spilt twenty. He tried to pick up the twenty, and spilt them all. Then he lost his temper, scattered the peas in all directions, and ran away.
-Fables, Leo Tolstoy
99.7% is the sweet spot
In high school statistics class, we learned the 68-95-99.7 rule for normal distributions. A normal distribution is shaped like a bell curve. The 68-95-99.7 rule means that approximately 68% of the observations fall within 1 standard deviation of the mean, approximately 95% of observations fall within 2 standard deviations of the mean, and approximately 99.7% of observations fall within 3 standard deviations of the mean. The implication of this in statistics is that it’s empirically useful to treat 99.7% probability as near certainty. While a direct correlation cannot necessarily tie this with how we decide to live our lives, it’s representative of a bigger lesson: working with 99.7% of something is even better than engaging in the fruitless endeavor of reaching 100%.
With most projects we work on, attaining 100% is quite literally a never-ending process and a wild goose chase that risks consuming more of our lives than appropriate. As stated earlier, we may have even accomplished 100%, but we don’t know it because we’re never sure if there’s something else we could’ve done better. We become mired in a downward spiral that eventually backfires and becomes self-destructive. By attaining 99.7%, we allow ourselves the freedom to feel confident we came up with a fantastic product, as well as permit ourselves the ability to disengage from it.
Many people see themselves as perfectionists and keep working away at something even when they pass the point where minor improvements they make simply aren’t worth their time anymore. Time is the most valuable, limited, and powerful resource on the planet, for no matter if we are a billionaire or a baby, the amount of time we are alive is limited and deviates relatively little from an average life expectancy. Therefore, reaching perfection might just mean not being perfect, but instead may mean being 99.7% there. By leaving an insignificant room for error, we enable ourselves to invest our time into stuff that’s more important.
Obsessing over being 100% perfect and going through countless revisions leads, to stress, strain, and losing the ability to be satisfied. When we do something and allow for one or two mistakes, we become liberated from our work and gain the freedom to move on. As seen in statistics, 99.7% is enough to be considered the most meaningful amount we should work with. If we strive and obtain 100%, we risk being struck by a lightning bolt from Zeus. Therefore, the best way of going about anything in life is to aim for 99.7% perfection, which is even better than being 100% perfect.