February 28, 2008

Week 11: Perfection will not be tolerated!

In his book Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Marketing, Harry Beckwith devotes a whole chapter, albeit a two-page chapter, to the idea that perfection is not perfect (and another to the idea that failure is not failure). This idea has applications in fields as diverse as marketing, music, carpentry, and...librarianship! Beckwith introduces this idea in the context of sales and marketing: your clients do not necessarily want "the best" or perfection, but what they do want is competent, thorough work done. My brother who is a music teacher once said to parents in the midst of a concert, "Be proud of your children's progress...it is very hard to work toward something that you know you will never be able to perfect." My husband who is a carpenter said in his business the conventional wisdom has been, "Don't let the perfect get in the way of the very good," with the implication being (in each of these cases) that if you do, you will never move on.

My experience as a librarian so far has shown me that not only is perfection not expected, but it is often quite counterproductive. As I expressed in Week 6, much of this work is shoveling information. I use the word "shoveling" not to liken information to dirt (it's soil!) but to express the volume of it, as well as its granularity and precarious containment. You can do a great job shoveling, but there will always be residual spills, even tiny ones, and that's the bit that makes the difference between "perfect" and "very good."

I don't think I will ever find all the information I need, and even of what I find I may miss a link or two when I try to disseminate at the speed of light. It will never be perfect. Our goal should be "very good" - timing, coverage, depth, and attitude. We're capable of that, and it's a good goal. So put on a good smile, not a perfect one, and keep shoveling!

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