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The Paradox of Perfection: Learning to Give Your Best Performance

Posted by Ken Klaus on September 5, 2008

If you’re a foodie, love to travel, or have absolutely no problem grabbing some serious couch time on the weekend, you’ve probably seen Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. In the fifth season, which wrapped this week, we join our host as he eats his way around the world, touring Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, Laos, Spain and my personal favorite Japan – where he goes “in search of the relationship between a perfect piece of sushi and a perfect knife blade, the common ground shared by the martial artistry of kendo and the subtle aesthetics of Japanese flower arranging.” Indeed throughout the episode Chef Bourdain returns again and again to the idea of perfection, asking each of the masters he interviews (sushi, kendo, and ikebana) if they believed in the concept of perfection and whether they felt they had ever achieved it in their field of expertise. Paradoxically, though all of them believed in the idea of perfection, they universally agreed that achieving it was very unlikely and, more importantly not the point. What truly mattered was continually improving your performance – doing a better job each time you took up the task at hand.


Recently, I’ve been reading the new book from Mark Sanborn author of The Fred Factor and You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader. In his latest book, The Encore Effect, Mark offers insights reminiscent of the philosophy shared by the sushi, kendo and ikebana masters of Japan – that giving an exceptional performance has less to do with achieving perfection, and more to do with focus, passion, discipline and the desire to do your job better with each new day. The exceptional performer embraces the idea that there is always room to improve and they apply the same level of focus and discipline equally to each task, no matter how small the job or great the reward. As Mark states, “Remarkable performers focus on the outcome they’re striving to achieve and say no to any activity that would divert their efforts. They know exactly where they are going and they focus on how to get there.”


In addition to focus and discipline, outstanding performers also have passion. In an early post I wrote for the TalentedApps blog, Helping Happy Cows Stay Happy, I talked about my desire to find a deeper passion for my work. What I discovered, am still learning, and Mark far more eloquently describes in The Encore Effect is that passion does not derive from our work, rather passion is something we must bring to our work, even if the job we’re doing today is not necessarily the one we want to do; because the passion, discipline and dedication we bring to our job today may be the key that unlocks the door to the unknown career for which we are still searching. Mark says it even better: “By doing your job with all the passion and enthusiasm and creativity and energy you have, you will make yourself increasingly valuable in the eyes of those around you. And as that happens, your opportunities will expand. When people are excited about you and about what you have to offer, the possibilities that will open up may surprise you.”


I firmly believe that our vocations and our performance are entirely ours to manage. I also believe that we can provide an exceptional performance, one worthy of an encore, no matter what the job or how often we have been tasked to complete it. We simply need to raise the bar, set more challenging goals, and strive to do a better job than we did the last time; remembering that improvement and not perfection is the goal. Again citing the master, “The fact is that no matter how good you become, you can always get better. And that’s a good thing. It keeps work and life interesting and challenging, because if you have become as good as you would ever get, the balance of your days would be pretty monotonous. Perfection is not a goal but a process – one that never ends.” Thanks Mark!


7 Responses to “The Paradox of Perfection: Learning to Give Your Best Performance”

  1. Meg Bear said

    OMG Ken would you get out of my head? 😉

    I had almost this exact conversation with someone recently. As you know these days I’m all about finding passion since passion makes us happy and when we are happy everything is easier. Oh, and I LOVE No Reservations too. Excellent post, I’ll have to give the book a read.

  2. Vivian Wong said

    Excellent post Ken – I COMPLETELY agree and especially love the part about “The encore effect” – I’d have to get that book! BTW, I like the concept of “No Reservations” – we should do that for our next offsite 😉

  3. Ken Klaus said

    Meg, you caught me! I’ve been rummaging around inside your head for some time now – lots of good ideas to pilfer – err I mean borrow! Good to know there’s another No Reservations addict around, now I know who to call when I’m craving sushi and someone to gossip with about my favorite episodes. =)

  4. Ken Klaus said

    Vivian, you’ll love the book, especially the chapters on passion – which I think you have already totally mastered! I also agree we should try a little impromptu social networking and skip the reservations. I might even join you, if I don’t have to drive! =)

  5. Vivian Wong said

    @ Ken – you are on for the next impromptu social networking event! PS. While the rumor has it that female drivers from countries with more bikes than cars don’t have a stellar reputation on the road – I have a solid car made out of 100% German steel with rollover protection – so you are almost 100% safe with me! 😉

  6. Enjoyed your post, Ken. Thanks for mentioning my work. The idea of striving for perfection knowing it is never achieved is an eastern philosophy in basis but I find it to be universal in truth. The reality is that perfection is a moving target. If defined as “without flaws” it is easier to identify; if defined by absolute quality, it is impossible to quantify.

    Keep up the great work.


  7. […] is a shining example of passion, innovation, and creativity – all characteristics that our TalentedApps bloggers frequently […]

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