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Is perfectionism killing our industry?

Why perfectionism is a bad trait - for individuals and for the advertising industry


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Oliver Feldwick

3 years ago | 2 min read

I believe that perfectionism is killing our industry.

Our industry has developed a keen eye for detail over the years. Sweating every second in a cherished 60” asset. Every second counts when it has a shedload of media spend behind it. This leads to weeks and weeks in post-production, multiple music options, crafting the perfect finished film.

We have justified this by telling ourselves that we are creating something with a higher purpose than advertising. That we are creating art and that every bit of polish is worth it in service of our art.

But this perfectionism is killing our industry. Not just harming agencies culturally, personally and financially, but it’s holding us back creatively, dampening innovation and reducing our clients effectiveness.

Culturally and personally, it creates an unhealthy and unsustainable working environment and lifestyle. It leads to people burning the candle at both ends. Sweating the detail burns out people, agencies and budgets — as more talented people take on more and more work until breaking point.

‘Perfect’ stops us getting things done
‘Perfect’ stops us getting things done

It also contributes to a broken business model, where we are happy to do unprofitable, unsustainable work because of the higher value of ‘art’. While using great work as the best portfolio for our agency makes a certain sense, it also risks setting unachievable or unsustainable bars for us to reach. This spreads to other agencies — as we try to out-do each other on ever decreasing budgets and resources. Often, instead of working smarter, we simply work harder and swallow the costs.

But even more worrying than this, it creates a culture of fiddling and obsessing, rather than innovating and experimenting. Where we can’t see the wood for the trees, spending longer polishing a good idea than trying to find a great one. This holds us back from trying stuff, from taking risks and learning. We risk ending up in a world where we don’t innovate, we tweak.

It also reduces effectiveness of our work, where that extra 2 weeks of tinkering on an end-frame will never deliver an ROI. The opportunity cost of tweaking a music track or end-frame is rarely factored into an effectiveness framework. Our perfectionism risks becoming a vanity that detracts from the effectiveness of our work.

This isn’t to say that craft isn’t important. As Sir John Hegarty likes to say, great work is 80% idea and 80% execution. But we also need to recognise that craft is a finite resource. Every second we spend polishing is a second we can’t spend doing something else.

We need to start making better judgement calls. We need to focus our effort, and recognise when we’re seeing diminishing returns. We need to temper our culture of artistic perfectionism, with a pragmatism and a view of the bigger picture. Good may be the enemy of great. But I believe ‘perfect’ is an enemy of all of us.

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Oliver Feldwick


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