June 5, 2017 - John Hadfield
The Danger of Pursuing Perfection
Letting go can make all the difference in success.
In the mid-1980s I was in a rock band with some friends. We were all high-school kids, but we were playing shows and getting paid! And after high school we stuck together and continued to see amazing success.
But in the 1990s we ran into a dilemma that ultimately played a role in the band’s demise. And like many downfalls, it was completely avoidable.
During the course of our career we had some high-profile experiences, so a few major record companies showed interest in us. So in 1994 I took a trip to Los Angeles with our band’s attorney. Over the course of a week we visited with several major record companies that had expressed some level of interest in our group. It was invigorating to have arrived at that level, but it quickly became frustrating because it was obvious that we had plateaued.
The feedback from the record companies was that they were interested in us, but the music we were presenting was stale. Our sound was one that had gone by the wayside a couple of years earlier. They weren’t interested in what we had at that point, but they told us that the door was open and that they were interested in hearing more.
The ball was in our court.
So, we decided we needed to get back in the studio and take another stab at evolving our sound. We moved the entire band to Denver, Colorado where we would have 24/7 access to our producer’s studio.
Our producer was a very talented guy. During our time together he challenged us and introduced us to a wide variety of new and different things. Through his mentorship we started incorporating instruments and sounds that were unique to that time in the 90s. We began using a mellotron, a Theremin, a super-continental organ, and a wide variety of other little odd-ball sounds and instruments.
Under his direction our songwriting improved, our musicianship evolved and our creativity expanded.
But amazingly, that is where it all died.
We made a decision, consciously or subconsciously, that would ultimately kill us. We made a decision to achieve perfection. We wanted to create something that a record company would be foolish not to accept. We were determined that we wouldn’t walk back into one of those record companies until we had the perfect product.
Our producer bought some new digital tape recorders called ADATs. We spent over a year writing and recording a whole new group of songs. I was very proud of what we had created too. The songs were fresh, the sounds were good, the instrumentation was interesting. But it was not as good as we THOUGHT we needed. We believed we could do better. So we decided to consider those recordings “pre-production” and start over.
So we added a couple of new songs to the mix and began re-recording everything. Once again, we spent over a year working on this re-booted version of the project.
And as we were getting to a point where we thought we might be done, our producer told us that he had found a Sony 2” 24 Track machine that he could buy and bring into the studio. This was an industry standard tape machine that would be an improvement over the ADATs. So we made the decision to start over again with a new tape format. Now we considered the second round of recordings as pre-production.
A couple of months later the 24-track tape machine arrived! And we started over as planned. And once again we added a couple of really good songs that I had written during the previous year.
But now time was taking its toll and the cracks were appearing. At this point nearly three years had passed. Some people in the band were getting tired of the project, some of us had to get jobs, frustration was setting in, feelings were raw and personalities started to collide. All of these things slowed progress considerably.
But we were after perfection.
With the new tape machine and new circumstances, we now spent over three years recording again!
All told, it had been over six years since that trip to Los Angeles.
Sadly, our new sounding music had become stale again! The opportunity to work with a record company had moved beyond the horizon. Some key people had quit the band and we had aged to the point that a record company was much less likely to take a risk on us. Tensions and hatred between those remaining had grown to epic proportions. And our few fans had long since forgotten about us. The band was over.
We sacrificed everything in the pursuit of perfection. Our focus on perfection was our first step toward failure.
Several times over those six years we asked ourselves, “wouldn’t it be better to just put out what we have instead of letting more time pass?” and in each case a decision was made that it was too risky. The attitude was - as long as we think we can improve, we should.
We were right in one way. The music improved with each new start. Those final recordings are some of my greatest musical achievements – but no one will ever hear them.
How often do we wait to do things because the time isn’t right? How often do we hesitate because we think something can be better?
Perfection isn’t reachable, but with hard work, good enough always is.
In our personal lives and careers we need to be careful that we don’t overshoot the good enough in the pursuit of perfection. It wastes time, energy and resources that could be used on the next thing.
Deciding that something is good enough is tough though. But if you are going to succeed in business or entrepreneurship, you have be able to do three things - let go, learn, and build.
Let go – Quit hiding what you are doing. Accept imperfection. Take a chance and release what you have for the world to see.
Learn – Whether you do it consciously or subconsciously, you will learn from your experience. The lessons will become part of the DNA of your next thing.
Build - Create Create Create! You will be stronger and better this time. Don't stop after learning your lesson.
If you want to make a move, do it now! The perfect time or situation ISN’T coming.
In our little cassette-to-CD business, we deal with a variation of this issue every day. Millions of people are still waiting to convert their audio or video tapes to digital. Technology evolves so quickly, they seem to be waiting for that perfect time, the perfect format, the perfect price, etc.
The world changes so fast, the perfect time to do anything rarely exists.
Will technology improve? that goes without saying. Will prices change? they always do. Things will always get better, but they will never be exactly what you want. And in the meantime your tapes are deteriorating, people are getting older and the window of opportunity is closing.
Don’t sacrifice good enough while you wait for perfect.