Asked to name a weakness, many job applicants claim perfectionism as though it’s a virtue in disguise. But in fact, perfectionism can be just as crippling as procrastination when it comes to decisive action and getting things done.
The perfectionist has a difficult time completing something and moving on because the results are never perfect.
But perfectionism often takes another form that prevents people from getting started and committing to a course of action in the first place. It happens when people and organizations hold out for the “right” answer or perfect solution, leading to a state of inaction that management consultant Patrick Lencioni calls “perfection paralysis” or “analysis paralysis.”
“Everyone is just sitting and waiting, and nothing gets done,” says Lencioni, founder of The Table Group in Lafayette, Calif.
What’s more, people don’t learn. “We learn by taking action and seeing whether it works or not,” he says.
Those gripped by analysis paralysis wait for all the evidence and data to point to the right course of action because they fear a misstep will cost them. What they don’t calculate, though, is “the cost of other people sitting around waiting, as well, and what that does to morale,” Lencioni says.
If paralysis seeps through an entire organization, its competitors will pull ahead, he adds.
Rather than holding out for the “right answer,” a good leader comes up with a sound solution that is “directionally correct” and supportable, he says.
Leaders of successful organizations “will almost always tell you that what they were good at was not necessarily having the right answer, but rather being able to rally around the best answer they could find at the time,” he writes in his latest book, “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business” (Jossey-Bass, 2012).
Instead of certainty, leaders are concerned with clarity: what they’re doing and why.
Analysis paralysis can also stall solo pursuits, such as saving for retirement.
“People get so caught up in details that don’t really matter as much as just getting started,” says Stuart Ritter, a senior financial planner with T. Rowe Price.