When Can You Play the Perfection Game?

I’m participating in several different writing projects: books with colleagues, shepherding experience reports, and a group book effort. We are all working to make the writing and eventual product better. We are playing the perfection game.

Here’s how you play the game. You ask this question, “What would make this even better, even more perfect?”

Now, I’m not interested in or even capable of making my writing perfect. That’s unrealistic and impossible. Because writing is a craft, it will be “imperfect” for some people. You’ve noticed I don’t use proper grammar here in this blog. And, I don’t care. (Yes, I start sentences with and. Tough. See what I did there? I used a one-word phrase as a sentence.) You hear me, my words, the way I say them.

The perfection game isn’t about literal perfection. It’s about working with feedback to make some piece of work better in small increments. We don’t need to provide big feedback. We can provide small feedback about some specific thing, wait for a change, and continue.

I first encountered the perfection game when I submitted talks or was a reviewer for one of the big agile conferences (Agile 2006, maybe?). I can’t remember which conference it was. The game struck me as a great way to get feedback on any of my work.

I’m not perfect at the perfection game. (Go ahead and laugh. I am.) I often wait too long for feedback—I create chunks that are too large for people to easily review. Part of that is the way I write. I want to finish enough so people can provide useful feedback. And, I don’t want people in my writing, telling me what to write. I write my articles, blog posts, and books. I don’t write theirs.

It’s a fine line for me with respect to writing.

For me, it’s different when I learn a new physical skill or when I work with product development teams.

When I learn to do something new, I want feedback as often as possible. When I first learned how to do my version of downward dog with leg lifts (the down-facing yoga pose), I needed coaching for all kinds of things: how to balance on my hands and knees, how to get my leg lifts up, how to not move side to side. My lack of balance makes these lifts a challenge, which is the point.

When I work with development teams, they often see the entire large feature set. However, their work is different from my writing. These teams need feedback from the customer or product owner—they need the customer in their development. Playing the perfection game can help, especially if they can build very small features.

Looking for constant perfection is a trap. Instead, if I can make progress, and play the perfection game, I have a better chance of success.

That is the question this week: When can you play the perfection game?

4 thoughts on “When Can You Play the Perfection Game?

  1. Yves Hanoulle

    Hi Johanna,

    I’m one of these people who loves using the perfection game.
    On my blog is a pdf that you can distribute at courses/workshops

    My blog also has a real life example, giving to me, by a couple that uses it to improve their sex life http://www.hanoulle.be/2008/05/optimize-your-sex-life-using-the-perfection-game/
    I give this example to show how extreme people can go to use the perfection game.

    1. johanna Post author

      Yves, thank you for both links. What I love about the perfection game is that we become transparent. Vulnerable, yes. And, transparent with what we want.

  2. Sascha

    Thanks Johanna, I love your thoughts on the perfection game. I also love your language, your one-word phrases, your “natural” sentences. They make my thoughts flow :-) Me too, I am writing very different kinds of texts. Here is what I value in this game: Feedback is always welcome. I think about feedback thoroughly when writing “for other people”, like in informational texts. I sometimes do not think about feedback at all when writing “for me”, like in artful texts. Those simply are perfect if I feel they are. One-worded. Or not. Imperfect. If I need them to be.

    1. johanna Post author

      Sascha, lovely!!

      Contrary to you, I don’t always want feedback. I often want feedback. When I’m in the “middle” of a post or a difficult chapter, I vary in my feedback wishes. Sometimes, I need some help to figure out what’s not working. More often, I need to write more before I can let people in.

      I’m finding that for my fiction, I need to “finish” for some version of finish, before I can let people into my writing. I’m able to finish better in my non-fiction because I have more practice there.

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