In defense of perfection

In defense of perfection

There are countless articles out there telling you that perfectionism is something you just don't need in your life. If "just doing the job" is so often enough, why put yourself through all that extra stress?

Firstly, most things in life aren’t that important.  For example, your happiness is probably not dependent upon organising the contents of your cutlery drawer by size and type.

Secondly, the average person’s standards are, well, average. They won’t notice whether or not the icing on your cupcakes is uniform in thickness, colour, or sprinkles.

But. In life there are certain rare but significant moments where perfection is everything.

Formula One is one of the world’s most competitive sports. Top teams spending hundreds of millions of dollars can reach the end of a season without notching up a single race win.

From 2000 to 2004, Ferrari and Michael Schumacher dominated. They had mastered every aspect of the team's performance from the car design to the pit stop choreography. Rory Byrne, one of the leading Formula One designers of his generation, worked for Ferrari during this period. A significant part of their success is attributable to his meticulous perfectionism.

For example, knowing that a tiny drop in ambient temperature would give them a small edge over everyone else, he would hold the cars back from setting their fastest laps in qualifying, waiting for a cloud to move across the sun.

It worked. Over and over again.

During this time, they won five driver and constructor championships in a row. This feat has yet to be matched let alone beaten.

This may sound obsessive, but this pinnacle of motorsport does not stand alone in the relentless pursuit of flawlessness.

Team Sky entered the professional cycling arena in 2010 with the seemingly hopeless ambition of winning the Tour de France with a British rider within five years.

Their general manager, Sir David Brailsford, approached the challenge with a ruthless adherence to ‘marginal gains’ theory. The idea was that by looking at every single dimension of a team’s performance with surgical attention to detail, small gains could be made across the board.

These ‘marginal’ gains, when added together, would result in an overall uplift in performance greater than the sum of its parts. This included recruiting professional healthcare workers to teach team members how to wash their hands properly to prevent viruses spreading.  

The seemingly audacious goal was achieved within just three years when the British rider Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour de France. Fellow Briton Chris Froome then went on to win the following year. He subsequently won Team Sky's third Tour de France title in 2015, fourth in 2016 and fifth in 2017.

If you want to achieve anything truly worthwhile then, sometimes, it truly pays to be a perfectionist.


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