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Perfectionism nearly killed Rock and Roll

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Perfectionism nearly killed my friend’s wine store launch. Perfectionism nearly killed rock and roll, too.

How I Stopped Trying to be Perfect and Just Played My Guitar

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” This quote really sunk in when I tried to help a my friend’s wine store launch an eCommerce platform. I discovered that I was the enemy and, as a result, the project almost failed. Perfectionism nearly killed rock and roll, too, but we brought it back.

Dan Dickson and his now agile band

Perfectionism nearly killed the Wine Store

After two years of repeated delays and deflected blame, the wine store eCommerce site still hadn’t launched. I finally realized the issue was not with the staff, it was with the management (most notably, me). In a very un-agile way of doing things, we kept deferring the platform launch until we perfected everything.

Thanks to my Agile exposure, unofficially through my work at Mindful Agility and officially through CAVU, I finally realized that perfection actually was the problem. Instead of seeking perfection, we decided to perform a controlled experiment with an almost perfect eCommerce website—and what do you know? We got it going with beta customers, fixed some bugs, and now it’s up and running in production. After almost two years of thrashing around and accomplishing nothing, we had a viable product.

Listen to Dan Greening and I discuss the wine store near-disaster in episode 15 of the Mindful Agility podcast, Wine Store: Does perfectionism cause failure? Our conversations in that episode led the wine store success.

Perfectionism can degrade or delay an outcome—I see that problem every day now. And it’s not limited to software development (where Agile management originated) or to project management—it can show up anywhere. Rather than doing nothing until things are perfect, do an experiment that’s not going to cause a lot of damage, and learn.

Perfectionism nearly killed Rock and Roll

Agile solved a big problem in my “side job” as a semi-professional musician, which is about as far away from business management as I can imagine. I’m competent—I was a studio musician in Nashville—and have been part of some pretty good bands, One actually played Carnegie Hall. I’ve worked with several bands, but most recently with one based in the New York Catskills. The core is a husband-wife team (he plays lead guitar; she’s lead female vocalist). They are extremely talented musicians. And they are perfectionists.

Perfectionism proved itself an obstacle to our playing out. When I first joined the band, I got up to speed quickly, and we played at a few venues. Then COVID hit and everything shut down. When we regrouped, we evaluated a succession of drummers, but finally found one who was not a complete wacko (a common condition among rock and roll drummers) and was reasonably talented.

The addition of the new drummer was a major change, and the band couldn’t meet the female vocalist’s need for perfection. This was especially true after two years of COVID-induced stasis and three drummers. In her opinion, we were not quite ready to return to the live music circuit. She insisted on rehearsing the same sets over and over and over with the objective of achieving perfection. This didn’t just apply to the songs, but to the transitions, and every detail in between.

Introducing agile to The Band

I was going along with this routine until I had my wine store revelation and realized that perfectionism stood in the way of the band’s success, too. One rehearsal evening, I sat everyone down and explained the concept of Agile and experimentation. Why not take what we had and do a low-risk experiment?

In this case, it involved playing two sets at a private party. And that experiment was a success—we got rave reviews, and now are back on the road. But it took that breakthrough experiment to crack the perfection barrier.

Just shows that Agile techniques can work anywhere. For more about agility, and how to use in anywhere, check out the Agility pattern.


The Mindful Sprint: Weekly explorations to build insight and success.

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