Abhishek Parolkar writes that flawlessness is not about perfection, its about how complete can you become after accepting reality. He offers this amazing video that illustrates this idea:

It reminds me of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks where he tells stories from his clinical practice about people with severe mental disabilities. His focus is not really on their disabilities, but on other abilities which allow them to compensate and actually excel in a very different way.

Mastery is an important skill. In my field of software development, I believe that the most important skill is the ability to learn. It is something that is hard to assess in an interview, but you can see it clearly when you work with someone for a while. In the past two years, I moved outside of my comfort zone, into new tech and then stepping into a full time role leading a new business. I realize that I’ve become accustomed to the sharp pain of reflecting on a recent failure. It is like muscle pain when I’m working out — a real part of the process. Randy Nelson says that “the core skill of innovators is error-recovery, not failure avoidance.” I’ve seen this in action repeatedly with the RailsBridge workshops. When I’m trying to make something happen, I try to focus on the big goal, that intangible thing which is not the event or the deal. Whatever it is, that goal cares little about errors along the way, as long as we can repair them quickly enough that relationships aren’t damaged, and sometimes the error doesn’t matter at all. I recently read the Done Manifesto (via @ianchia) which speaks to the same concept in a different way. As noted by @sftwrexperiment, we learn and adapt. Sometimes I feel like my whole life has been spent practicing for this moment.

3 thoughts on “perfection vs mastery

  1. Hi Sarah,

    I’m very touched that you – someone that I’ve admired for a very long time found a tweet I sent your way to be helpful to you.

    I’ve been reflecting on these very same issues for the past year – and about learning and changing on a personal level, about empowering children to learn, and about building something that matters. Here’s a bunch of thinking I’ve been mulling over related to this that I’ll leave for your reflection. I hope you find them as thought provoking and helpful as I have.


    So very glad to have crossed paths with you again.

    All the best,

    – Ian

  2. Sarah, many many thanks for this great post!

    We technologists must dedicate a little time every day to look beyond the 0’s and 1’s :), and read wonderful posts like this!

    God bless you! Have a great 2011

  3. Pingback: Equals Drummond » Blog Archive » Perfection vs. Mastery

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