I heard this interview on NPR recently about a new book that compares Charles Dickens and Prince (the musician). Which on its face does seem quite odd… but the main tie that the author makes in the interview is regarding their prodigious creative output, for both were art production powerhouses. And they were able to be so because neither were perfectionists. In that kind of “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” kind of way, they were so excited to explore and create more that they wanted to finish what they started and move on.
Which, interestingly, also turns out to be a brilliant way to get even better at creating.
Hank Green mentioned once his 80% Rule (which to be clear is very different from the usual and oft quoted 80/20 rule aka the Pareto Principle). His idea was, when creating works, to pull hard on them until they reach about 80% of how good you think they can be. Then declare them complete and move onto the next one.
The beauty of this lies within another oft quoted truism: The first 90% of the work takes 90% of the time, and the last 10% of the work takes the other 90% of the time. To which I bet many of us have experienced this firsthand… to get something “perfect” ends up taking a huge amount of time.
We may well have produced two, three, or even four works within that same amount of time. And the kicker is that our growth, our development in our self-expression as an artist, is more dependent on completed works and wrangling things to that 80% level than what we might learn in getting it “perfect.”
So, by being mindful of our perfectionist tendencies and instead aiming ourselves towards the 80% rule, we complete much more work that not only is amazing in its own right (able to touch, move, excite, and inspire others as well as be fulfilling and self-actualizing), but as we complete these works our skill grows and grows, such that soon our 80% is of higher quality than our “perfect” would be if we made each work “perfect.” Which is pretty darn cool.
* I have also used this in my preparations for running RPG games, prepping things to 80% of the level of quality and intricacy that I think they could be and moving on, leaving me mentally fresher and more flexible when running the game, both of which tend to actually make for a better session than if I’d been “perfect!”