Is there a “right way” to create value?
I used to get caught up with doing things the “right way”: the “right way” to write about a topic, the “right way” to talk to cute girls, the “right way” to go about building an organization. I had in my head the idea that there was one ultimately perfect way to do things, and that success was about finding that perfect way and following it. On its face, it sounded pretty reasonable: all things considered, there’s usually a “most efficient” way to optimize a system, so clearly there should be a “best” way in everything.
Yet, when I tried to practice this, I’d run into problems.
I’d never be able to stop working on a project: there was always something more that could be improved, something that wasn’t quite “perfect” for me to tweak, “just one more thing to improve before I launch this workshop.” I could never actually move on anything because everything had to be perfect first. It also took me out of the problem-solving mindset: instead of trying to figure out how I could solve the problem, I was focused on searching for the “perfect” solution. Instead of approaching problems with a creative, entrepreneurial mindset, I defaulted to “somebody else probably has the answer, and I just need to find it.” My first step was to go to others, rather than think for myself. It was also a drain on my self-esteem: instead of having a series of things I viewed as successful projects completed or actions taken, I had a series of things I viewed as “close, but no cigar.”
I didn’t get much launched, I regularly fell out of the entrepreneurial mindset, and I never felt a sense of efficacy or pride from the things I did launch. Something had to give.
There was a question I didn’t ask myself, one that would’ve saved me a lot of time and energy, and would’ve put me on the track to success much, much sooner in life: perfect – for what?
Things aren’t perfect in and of themselves.
They’re perfect for accomplishing a certain goal, perfect because they accomplish that goal, and perfect only because they accomplish it. The “right” way to present this idea is the way that effectively conveys it to you as you’re reading this. I could do that through a story, an analogy, a dissertation, an example of this we’re seeing in the culture, or any number of other ways. Each of them is equally “perfect” because they all effectively convey the idea. It’s only until and unless I add another goal to the list that some aren’t perfect anymore because they don’t accomplish all of the goals I have (ex. Since a goal of mine is to have you stay awake through the entire piece, a dissertation probably isn’t “perfect”).
This applies more broadly throughout life as well. What’s perfect for me, a 22-year-old college drop-out from the Midwest interested in life coaching, won’t be perfect for you; what’s perfect for you and me, people interested in an entrepreneurial lifestyle, won’t be perfect for the person looking for a 9-to-5 job and a house with 2.5 kids. The perfect amount of food for a professional athlete to eat will be different than the perfect amount for you and I; and among athletes, the amount also differs, across sports and across individual players, fully dependent on their goals and their circumstances. There’s no such thing as “perfect” in and of itself. “Perfect” is contextual.
This was what I was missing. The vague, contextless “perfect” that I was perpetually pursuing didn’t exist – so of course, I wasn’t making any progress. I couldn’t get things done because I had no idea when they were perfect; I couldn’t think about or solve problems because I had no idea what the concrete goals I’d need to accomplish actually were; I couldn’t gain a sense of efficacy because what I was doing wasn’t working. Once I understood it, I switched my focus from finding the “right” way to do things to finding the way that accomplished all of the goals I set out for myself. The paralysis lifted, the problem-solving mindset returned, and my self-esteem started to grow.
The thing that alarms me is that this view isn’t uncommon.
Its deepest roots are in philosophy (thanks, Plato) so its influence is widespread, but one of its most evident manifestations is in education. Consciously and unconsciously, this contextless “perfect” mindset is reinforced in everything we do. You must learn by a “perfect” method (or waste your time pretending you do), or you’re failed (see: lecture attendance policies). If you don’t solve your problems by a “perfect” method, you’re failed. If you can’t reproduce your knowledge by the “perfect” method (testing), you’re failed. There’s one way, and that’s the right way, and you have to follow it – or else you’ll fail.
This doesn’t reflect life in the real world.
There’s no “perfect” method; in the marketplace, people don’t care if you’ve done something the “right” way; they only care that you’ve done it in a way that helps them solve their problems. They’re always asking the question “Perfect – for what?” Each person is looking for a product that’s perfect for them, one that accomplishes the goals they’re seeking to achieve; but like I said, “perfect” is different for each person: you and I have different goals, so a product that’s great for you might be horrible for me; its value is contextual.
By teaching kids that there is a “perfect” way to do things, school gets them thinking that there is a “perfect” product – a product that everyone will equally want and need, regardless of their personal circumstances or preferences. The mindset already gets them to stop focusing on solving actual problems for actual consumers, undercuts their ability to problem-solve creatively, and undermines their self-esteem, but it also confuses their understanding of value-creation and leaves them impotent to succeed in the real world. And this is what our schools are teaching.
There’s no “perfect” way to create value. If we want to promote success, self-esteem and entrepreneurship, we need a new model of education – one that teaches students that “perfect” is contextual. That’s the model Praxis provides.