Your Recipe for Success: Curiosity and Imperfect Action
Jen discusses the power of curiosity in business and why perfectionism is a doctrine you need to lose if you really want to move your ideas forward.
About Jen McFarland
Jen McFarland has helped hundreds of businesses and thousands of podcast listeners make better technology decisions. She’s nerdy enough to talk to the techies, but her real passion is helping nontechnical business owners. Jen’s tech agnostic, research-based solutions deliver powerful results. Her clients have experienced up to 250% increases in web traffic, and a 98% reduction in data entry.
Jen: Hello and welcome to the Third Paddle podcast. I’m your host Jen McFarland. On this episode, we have a couple of segments. In the first segment, I talk about the importance of curiosity in business. Truly. Curiosity killed the cat but not your business. In the second segment, I talk about the power of imperfect action and why waiting for the right time doesn’t always work. All that and more here on the Third Paddle.
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Announcer: Welcome to the Third Paddle podcast recorded at the Vandal Lounge in beautiful Southeast Portland Oregon. Why the Third Paddle? Because even the most badass entrepreneurs get stuck up in business shit creek. Management consultant Jennifer McFarland is your Third Paddle helping you get unstuck.
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Jen: I’m a subscriber to the Harvard Business Review and when this month’s issue came out September and October, it said “Why Curiosity Matters” and it had a picture of a cat eating a feather. Because as we all know curiosity killed the cat and the headline says something about new research shows that curiosity is vital to an organization’s performance. And I read that and I thought you need new research for that?
[00:01:12]:25 – [00:01:38]:00
Jen: People don’t know that already? And then I started to reflect on some of the resistance that I’ve found in previous environments previous organizations that I’ve worked in and I reflected on an earlier episode where Brigette Iarrusso mentioned like “maybe you were a troublemaker or other workplaces, Jen,” and I was like “I wasn’t a troublemaker.” And then I reflected on that and I thought OK, maybe.
[00:01:38]:25 – [00:02:42]:15
Jen: And as I thought about it one of the pieces of working with me means that I ask questions because and it could be why I enjoy podcasting is that I love asking questions and I will ask questions even to at times my own detriment because the answers to those questions sometimes are what lead to the biggest breakthroughs. And so curiosity is a huge component of my own business and I believe also to serving my clients because if you don’t ask the hard questions then you don’t get to the hard answers and in the hard answers is where we find new ground to break and we actually can create you know in the case of technology, that’s how you build that long-term, sustainable solution that makes you different from your competitors and other people around you. But before you’re willing to do anything you should really be getting very curious with yourself because curiosity killed the cat but it absolutely didn’t it didn’t kill your business.
[00:02:42]:16 – [00:03:12]:28
Jen: In fact, as I was researching so I read these articles in the Harvard Business Review and they talk a lot about being curious about you know your own position within a job and then 70 percent of people said that they face barriers to asking more questions at work and I certainly faced those barriers myself. And since this podcast is geared toward business owners, the question I have to ask you is are you putting up barriers to your employees asking you questions at work?
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Jen: And if you don’t know the answer to that or you may be uncomfortable with saying yeah I kind of do that sometimes. I think the thing to really reflect on in that moment is why. Why do you put up barriers whether it’s asking yourself more questions or in the case of a large company? Why do you put up barriers to your employees asking more questions?
[00:03:38]:04 – [00:04:12]:21
Jen: Is it because the questions may lead to answers that you don’t like? Is it because the questions may lead to actions that you need to take that scare you? Is it because the status quo is really worked out that well? Or do you really just not want to deal with it? As a business owner curiosity is a huge part of the work that we all do. You can’t try something one time and if it fails, decide I’m never doing that again.
[00:04:12]:21 – [00:04:27]:02
Jen: Life just doesn’t work that way and as hard as we get older right as we get older we begin to think about things and say well I’ve got this wired, I’ve got this nailed, I know exactly what I need to do. I created this business. I created this life. I live in this house.
[00:04:28]:00 – [00:04:53]:27
Jen: I’m set. And then one day the power goes off. You lose your job. You maybe there’s an earthquake where you live and you’re going to have to get real curious real fast to recreate that life or create a new life. So rather than waiting for any sort of disaster to befall you maybe it behooves you to ask more questions every day hire for curiosity.
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Jen: Think about what you can do to model being inquisitive.
[00:05:00]:00 – [00:05:25]:17
Jen: What can you do to find people who will ask questions and make you create or help you create a learning environment? Because innovation comes from curiosity. Innovation didn’t come from sitting around doing the same thing over and over again. Alexander Graham Bell didn’t sit around and say OK everything’s great we’ll just keep up with the status quo.
[00:05:26]:26 – [00:06:07]:18
Jen: And you might say well I’m not an inventor, Jen, I don’t really need to be that curious. And the truth is, no, you don’t have to be that curious you have to be curious enough to serve your public. You have to be curious enough to innovate. So that you can stay you know at pace with all of your competitors if not one step ahead. You have to be curious enough to know that when those hard problems come, you don’t just step off to the side and avoid it entirely. And most of all you need to be curious enough to evaluate what it takes to improve. What do you need to do in order to improve?
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Jen: And that’s really the key. Is being curious thinking about what it is that’s going on today that is going really well and how you can make that better and then being curious about what’s going well and how you can make it better but then also being curious about the things that aren’t going well. Because for every good thing there’s some sort of balance out there some sort of thing that maybe isn’t going as well as you had hoped. And so what I’m hoping for all of us, actually, is that we look at both sides of it and we reflect on it but most importantly, I think we should act on it. And as we wrap up this segment on curiosity, which teeters a little into reflection, right, because part of being curious is fully thinking through different things, right? That’s one aspect of it is a little bit of reflection.
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Jen: But to me, the more important aspect of curiosity is when it shows you something. Sometimes the step isn’t actually to reflect on it and sit on it and sit with it. I encourage you to listen to the next segment which is about imperfect action. Because curiosity is one thing you can look at something and realize that something needs to change. But if you don’t act on it it’s just an idea on a piece of paper, it’s just something that you were curious about. So I encourage you to be curious.
[00:07:37]:00 – [00:08:02]:22
Jen: Travel, talk to new people, do new things, explore what’s going right, explore what’s going wrong. Be curious about that. Ask people questions, ask your customers questions, do all of the things, right? Just dedicate, maybe, you know, a couple hours a week just to curiosity. And then listen to the next segment which talks about imperfect action. Because if you get curious and then wait for the right time.
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Jen: That right time is never gonna come.
[00:08:12]:00 – [00:09:05]:10
Jen: One of the things I felt really drawn to talk about recently on the podcast is the idea of perfectionism and imperfect action and how this all relates to your business and your life. And so as I often do when I consider what I want to talk about I go to the definition so that I can know and be grounded in what I’m talking about because it helps to reinforce the pillars of the discussion ahead. And I thought this was pretty interesting so perfectionism right. Like we all think we know what perfectionism is. I had this idea of what it means to be a perfectionist. From the time I was a little girl and I always wanted to color in the lines and cut the pattern . Let’s let’s take a look at what Merriam Webster has to say about perfectionism.
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Jen: Perfectionism is the doctrine that the perfection of moral character constitutes a person’s highest good. It means that we have to be perfect in order to be our highest good.
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Jen: Think about that for a minute. It’s a doctrine.
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Jen: Another definition of perfectionism is the theological doctrine that a state of freedom from sin is attainable on Earth. The theological doctrine that a state of freedom from sin is attainable on earth.
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Jen: I don’t know about you, but I’ve committed a few sins and I don’t know anybody that hasn’t. So that’s the other definition of perfectionism.
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Jen: The third one listed here is a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable and I think this is the one that most of us live in. Right. Perfectionism means I don’t want to do anything unless I do it the right way. And by saying that, by saying that we will only do it if it’s done “the right way” what we’re doing is we’re actually saying there’s only one right way. I only want to do it that one right way and if I can’t do it that one right way I’m not going to do it at all.
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Jen: How does it sit for you? How does that feel?
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Jen: I can only do it that one right way. I’m not going to do it at all. I mean if you take that in a literal sense that means you’re driving home from an event and if there’s a car accident you can’t deviate even if you know that means you’ll get home an hour earlier because there’s only one right way. And yet over and over and over again in business, and in life, we decide there’s only one right way to do things and then we only do it one way, or, worse yet we take no action at all out of fear. And so there is an alternative to that.
[00:10:56]:24 – [00:11:44]:15
Jen: And, when I first started my career, when I first started the business, heck, I mean even in the last handful of years I was always striving for perfectionism for that perfectionist point of view. If I couldn’t do it the way that I wanted it done, I just wouldn’t do anything and you know one of my favorite quotes is not to decide is to decide. Which is kind of the cousin to not to act is to act. Because if we’re sitting around doing nothing if we’re sitting around talking about all the things all of the hopes all the dreams all of that, but we’re not doing anything about it, we’re actually choosing to sit on the sidelines and not play the game whatever that game may be.
[00:11:45]:15 – [00:11:56]:22
Jen: And yet there’s another way. And it’s a way that I’m as a perfectionist, occasionally I still wrestle with it, and yet more and more and more and more I’m comfortable with it.
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Jen: I’m more comfortable with taking imperfect action than I am with sitting on the sidelines because if I don’t just get out there and do something then somebody else is going to do it and I’m going to miss my opening and I miss my space.
[00:12:13]:10 – [00:12:54]:23
Jen: And so what I’ve decided is imperfect action is better if I do it in integrity because I think that a lot of times when I was you know worried or concerned and it came across as being perfectionist or a form of perfectionism it was actually a worry or fear or coming across as inauthentic. And I think in business that same fear and worry paralyze us. Keeps us from taking action. Keeps us from doing what we know we can do or achieve or be in our integrity. As our authentic self.
[00:12:54]:28 – [00:13:06]:15
Jen: Because sometimes it’s easier to sit on the sidelines sometimes it’s easier to sit back and let everybody else play the game, than it is for us to begin taking imperfect action. And imperfect action?
[00:13:06]:16 – [00:13:55]:22
Jen: Imperfect action is that you know you want to do something you may not have all the money. You may not even know how to get there you just know that if you start doing something you’ll figure it out. And sometimes taking imperfect action is the only way to go. I mean if you’re not a multibillionaire and can’t make mistakes over and over again if you’re on a small budget small steps can lead to big changes. And you don’t even need a budget for that. Pursuing your dreams pursuing your business ideas isn’t always about doing it the right way. It isn’t always about doing it one way. It isn’t always about doing it the rich way with a lavish budget and all the bells and whistles. Sometimes it’s actually just about getting started.
[00:13:56]:03 – [00:14:58]:06
Jen: And you see the biggest problem with perfectionism in business is that it prevents you sometimes oftentimes from getting started at all. And then your ideas aren’t getting out there at all. If you have an idea written down if you have your idea list sitting there I want you to really consider how much you’re helping somebody else. If you’re not taking action on that. How many people are missing out even if you don’t do it right? Even if you don’t do it perfectly. How many people are missing out on you by just letting it sit there? It’s so much easier to say I have to do a plan. I have to do this. I have to do that. So much easier to put up obstacles than it is to get started. Harry Truman said that “imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.” Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction. So that’s like all those ideas the written down on your desk that you’re not taking action on. You’d be better off just starting. Just doing something.
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Jen: And it’s scary right because the minute you start taking those imperfect actions the minute you decide I’m going to go ahead and start that business I’m going to go ahead and start speaking. I’m going to go ahead and do that podcast or write a blog or actually just start writing that book that I’ve thought about for years.
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Jen: The minute you do that you’re out of your comfort zone, right? And then people might actually ask you questions they might actually want a service from you they might actually want you to write that freakin’ book. And then what are you going to do. Well you’re going to have to write the book and maybe you’ve never written one before. But that’s OK. I mean there was a time when you know Faulkner and Tennessee Williams and Hemingway before they’d ever written a book or a play for they’d ever done anything. You got to get out of your comfort zone if you want to leave a legacy, a footprint.
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Jen: You’ve got to take. You’ve got to take imperfect action. You’ve got to get out of the plan you’ve got to get out of your head. You’ve got to decide that fear isn’t worth it.
[00:16:05]:25 – [00:16:14]:21
Jen: That anxiety isn’t worth it. And you’ve got to take that leap of faith. I know that I’m counting on you to take that leap of faith and I really hope that you will.
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Announcer: Thank you for listening to the Third Paddle podcast. Catch every episode by subscribing on iTunes. To learn more, check out our Web site at www.thirdpaddle.com. The Third Paddle podcast is sponsored by Foster Growth LLC online at www.fostergrowth.tech.