“The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement.”George Wills
Perfection is unattainable, but that shouldn’t stop us from imagining what perfection should look like.
Asking yourself, “What would this look like if it were perfect?” can be a powerful thought exercise. Improvements don’t have to be groundbreaking; they can be the smallest thing that you do differently.
The Six Sigma Approach
In business, this approach is called Six Sigma. It is a concept developed by engineer Bill Smith while working at Motorola in 1980.
It has since become a cornerstone business strategy for many businesses across many different industries, most notably General Electric and Toyota.
In fact, less than 20 years after it was developed, about two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies were using Six Sigma to reduce costs and improve quality.
The Six Sigma approach is one where 99.99966% of production opportunities are free of defects.
What sets this apart from other quality-improvement processes is it focuses on achieving measurable and quantifiable results that are near-perfect.
These improvements must also be sustainable.
The reason why this type of approach matters is it tells us there is no perfection, but instead guides us to reaching near-perfection on a consistent basis.
It gives companies a measurable goal to aim for instead of “Being the best” or “creating the perfect (insert product name here).”
Goals that are named, measurable, and realistic are the ones we achieve.
Toyota has taken Six Sigma and put it on steroids.
The Toyota Production System (TPS) is of the most successful uses of Six Sigma in business and is the subject of many a case study in MBA programs.
Using this approach, Toyota has decreased setup times, minimized production, empowered and involved its workers, and increased dealership participation.
What the executives at Toyota, General Electric, Motorola, and other companies probably don’t realize is that this technique, under a variety of different names, has been used by artists to improve their work for as long as artists have been around.
How Creatives can Improve
Implementing a process that focuses on near-perfection and attainable goals isn’t just reserved for Fortune 500 companies.
It’s something each and every one of us can use to improve our lives and art. From musicians to accountants, having a similar system in place can pay off big time in the long run.
Take a look again at the Six Sigma approach and ask yourself, “How would my current job look if 99.99966% of things operated smoothly with no defects?”
A defect doesn’t have to be in a machine, but it could be a nasty manager you always have to go through in order to get things done.
Write your answers down, and you’ll be amazed at what solutions present themselves.
In art, the process is identical. What about your art is “defective,” or doesn’t work the way you wish it did?
Maybe you’re stuck because you don’t perform as much as you’d like, or maybe you aren’t posting your work to Instagram on a regular basis.
Issues can pop up in every step of the creative process.
One technique many creatives use is to conduct a weekly review of their work.
Once a week, they set aside some time (half hour, an hour, two hours; however long it takes) and review notes they took during the previous week about their work.
These notes include creative ideas, hours spent working on creative projects, promoting those projects on social media, and collaborating with other creatives.
Of course, the list could go on depending on what the creatives actually wanted to accomplish.
They would then write down how they accomplished last week’s goals, what they didn’t do well, and what they can improve on during this coming week.
They then set measurable, attainable goals for the new week that focuses on the week areas from last week. For the next seven days, these are the goals they focus on.
Try this exercise, and I guarantee you will see results.
As the old saying goes, “What gets measured, gets managed.”
By keeping an eye on your work and tackling issues as they arise, you will begin to work more efficiently and creatively.
This doesn’t even have to be a once-a-week thing. Instead, try just devoting ten minutes each morning to this exercise.
While waiting for your morning coffee to brew, ask yourself questions like “How can I advance my (insert creative project you’re working on) today,” “How did I waste time yesterday, and what can I do today to minimize wasted time?” and “Will the art I create today actually help people?”
Becoming 99.99966% perfect
Will these exercises make you perfect? As we’ve already seen, there is no such thing as perfection.
Aiming to be perfect is unrealistic and will lead to disappointment down the road no matter how good your art is.
But, using methods similar to Six Sigma, we can implement systems to become nearly-perfect. And in today’s world, that’s just as good as the real thing.
One thing I realized when analyzing my magic show with this lenses was that there is a lot of time wasted in getting a volunteer from the audience to come up on stage and help with a trick.
When I need several different people to help out at various points during my show, that’s quite a bit of time wasted.
Realizing this, I re-worked those tricks that involved an audience helper. Instead of asking for a volunteer before the trick begins, I make it part of the trick itself.
Now, all of the deadtime in my show that resulted from finding a volunteer has turned into engaging moments that keep the whole audience engaged.
My show isn’t perfect, but it’s one step closer.
Changing small things like that can make a world of difference. This is the basis of the Six Sigma approach that has saved Fortune 500 companies billions of dollars.
If it works for them, why not you?