Perfectionism: Too much of a good thing?

…le mieux est l’ennemi du bien
– Voltaire, as far as we know

None of my close friends would describe me as a perfectionist. In fact, one of my favorite colleagues recently nominated me “most likely to lose a shoe on the subway”. I know that I’m nowhere near perfect, and I’m fine with that. In fact, I subscribe to the mantra that ‘perfect is the enemy of the good’. (Except when it comes to grant-writing.*)

The most obvious problem with perfectionism is reduced productivity. No surprise there – the more you obsess over every word, the less you write. But a 2010 study of professors by Simon Sherry and colleagues at Dalhousie showed that perfectionistic professors not only published less than their sloppier peers — their papers also tended to have lower impact:

Does perfectionism hold you back?


* In the current funding climate, and especially with the NIH “two strikes and you’re out” rule, the difference between a stellar 12-page proposal and an excellent one can be on the order of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in research funds. When each page is worth $10k or more, it had better be damn-near perfect…


About Silvia Bunge

I'm a tenured faculty member, and the head graduate advisor in my department.
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