I love a good quote. I've got a notebook full of wisdom uttered from the mouths of everyone from Plato to Tupac Shakur and every now and then when I have a good flick through, I come upon a new gem or find new significance for an old classic.
It was during a recent flip through that I came back upon one of my all time favorites, a real diamond from Henry Ford: "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse... Idiots!"
Now, I know Ford didn't call his potential customers idiots, but I'm guessing he was probably thinking it. And I love that Ford, inventor and industrial revolutionary, was like "Hey, you know what customers? Forget you! I'm building something great here, and what you think you want is irrelevant. So get back in your slow-a$$ carriages and scram!"
How gutsy, how totally against the grain of our nice-nice society, how incredibly brave to say to a customer you're NOT always right.
Because the thing is, dear Entreprenoras, our customers can sometimes be our worst enemies. They will ask and ask and ask and the trouble is, sometimes what they want is something you can't or shouldn't give. And sometimes even when you DO give your customer what they want, they change their mind and decide they don't want it anymore and then you've wasted all that time and effort and money for nothing. How frustrating!
For example, just a few short weeks ago, on the heels of an over-subscribed event, I polled my waiting list and other potential customers to see if they'd like me to run the event again. I got almost two dozen thumbs-ups so got busy putting everything together, setting up the ticket site, ordering workbooks, clearing my weekend, and after all that, guess what? Guess how many customers bought what they asked for once I had it ready for them?
"But I did what you asked!" I wanted to scream at the registration page. "Where did you all go?" I wanted to shout into the wind. But all I got in response was crickets. And it reminded me again that I don't always have to listen to my customers and I don't always have to oblige. My customers aren't always right. And neither are yours.
We can only offer what we can offer. And sometimes a customer doesn't know what they want until you show it to them (like the Model T). And sometimes what they want is not part of YOUR plan for your business, so you have to just ignore it.
I'm not saying we should ignore all customer feedback or pretend like all requests are irrelevant. What I am saying is that we should work hard to make our service or product as good as possible, hold ourselves to really high standards in how we deliver them, commit to always improving, listen to feedback and requests, and then filter the feedback and requests. Some ideas might be worth considering, others might not. A request is not an order. Feedback is not a command.
Take on board what your customers say and then use your best judgment to filter and decide what is worth implementing and what is worth forgetting about. Your relationship with your customer is exactly that: a relationship. And like in all relationships, one side isn't always right or more important. Your relationship is a conversation, an exchange, and sometimes you will have to agree to disagree.
If Henry Ford hadn't disagreed, how far behind would automotive technology and car culture be now? If you don't sometimes disagree, how far behind will you be in growing your business according to your vision?
You don't always have to listen to your customer. And sometimes when they ask for a horse, you have to give them a Model T instead.
"If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself..."
Ever heard those words before? I'm guessing that you've often found some version of that "perfectionist's creed" playing in a loop in your head as you've started and grown your business (and run your day-to-day life!).
I get it. We love to be in control. We love to get things done. We love having things done our way. And we are really, really, really good at some things, maybe even a lot of things. But perfect at all things? Is that even possible?
The more I think about it, the more I hear it from my clients, and the more I try to train myself out of it, the more I see self-proclaimed perfectionism as something quite different: laziness and anxiety in disguise.
Let me explain.
First of all, I think we can agree that doing anything "perfectly" is basically impossible because "perfect" is subjective. What I think is perfect, others might think sucks, and what they think is perfect, I might find seriously flawed. Perfect is a standard that we define and our definition will inevitably be different to someone else's.
Secondly, perfectionism is often used as an excuse for not doing something - "Oh, that website, will never be as perfect as I want it to be, so I may as well not build it"; "My business will never be as big as I want it to be, so I'm not going to start it"; "This marketing campaign will never capture everything I want to convey, so why bother planning it" - OR perfectionism is used as an excuse to keep doing everything ourselves because we can't be bothered to TRY to delegate to someone else or TRY to find someone who might, just might, be able to do it at least as well as (or maybe even better... gasp!), as we can or TRY to have a difficult conversation with a colleague or a partner about how they can contribute or improve.
Perfectionism maintains the status quo - we either don't do something or we keep doing everything - and the status quo is, well, lazy.
And perfectionism keeps us from addressing our often baseless anxieties. "It has to be perfect or people will never buy it"; "No one will execute my vision as perfectly as I can"; "If I don't do it, it won't ever get done"; etc, etc, etc.
Do you think Richard Branson comes up with new business arms AND does the marketing plan AND does the pricing AND chooses the words for each ad AND makes the coffee? No!
Do you think Sara Blakely turned her product idea into a billion-dollar business by sewing each item of Spanx herself AND building her website AND shipping her products AND ordering the paper clips for the office? Hell no!
So why do we? Why do we think we can grow a business AND do it all because no one else can? Why do we hold ourselves back by deluding ourselves that we are the exception to every rule of success (delegate, leverage, focus on what you're good at, test and iterate...)?
Are we really perfectionists? Or are we being lazy? Are we really perfectionists? Or are we just anxious?
Done is better than perfect. Trying is better than worrying. An imperfect business is better than one that stays in your head. Get something out there and improve, iterate, and - dare I say it! - perfect it later.
Be honest about what your "perfectionism" is costing you and your business, and then try, at least try, to hide behind the Perfectionist's Creed a little less often.