April 3, 2012
By Matt Palmer
Above is a video clip of the Foo Fighters accepting the award for Best Rock Performance at the Grammy Awards this year. I have posted this clip because Dave Grohl‘s speech was brilliant. You have to go towards the end of the clip to find the sound bite, but what he says applies not only to music but to anything in life. In his speech he rails against the digital music age where everything has to be perfect and auto-tuned. He yearns for music that speaks from the heart and the mind, not a silicon chip.
Perfectionism can destroy creativity, because in the pursuit of what we believe is perfect, we often miss the beauty of the accidental discovery, things that are askew. Beauty is often in the imperfect. The messy search for meaning, for ideas that do not fit the status quo but somehow inspire something completely unexpected. I have watched people go crazy trying to be perfect, often incurring great personal cost in doing so. Getting a perfect score on a test is great, but not if personal worth is attached to it. I was not an A student for most of my academic career, until got into a program at university that I loved. I know many stories of friends who achieved excellent grades, only to be made to feel less than themselves if they were not perfect. Getting 98% was not enough, where was the other 2%? As if a grade of 98% is not a great accomplishment.
I admire filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. He has made some incredible films like “Traffic“, and “Out of Sight“, and he not only directs but he is his own cinematographer as well, an unbelievable feat, yet he is not a perfectionist. Now there is a difference between having high standards and being sloppy. Soderbergh is one of the best directors working today but he loves imperfection. I have worked on many movie sets where the directors were perfectionists, and the stress level of everyone was often unbearable.
Perfectionism can be pathological. Clearly that is not a healthy way to live. Some people become so wrapped up in being perfect that they become blocked or paralyzed. When I teach I like to tell young people that I learn more from my mistakes than anything else. Living in an imperfect world opens so many possibilities, after all none of us is actually perfect. So let’s embrace our imperfections, and learn from the challenges of living in that space, perhaps uncomfortable for the perfectionists, but maybe the most liberating thing possible. Living in a space of imperfection opens the door to serendipity, a key example of an unintended consequence.