Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 9.26.14 AMI’ve had a debate recently about the true meaning of perfection and I thought that derivation week would be a good time to explore this on the web. The surprising thing is that people have a different understanding of what it means than the meaning that was originally intended.

Perfection comes from the Latin ‘Perfectus’ which itself comes from ‘Perficio’ which means to finish or bring to an end. (I’ve borrowed from Wikipedia for much of this analysis by the way.) Aristotle described three shades of meaning to the term. Something is perfect:

  • which is complete — which contains all the requisite parts;
  • which is so good that nothing of the kind could be better; or
  • which has attained its purpose.

Unfortunately, perfectionists nowadays ascribe the second meaning to the term and never bring something to an end because it can always be made better. This is particularly problematic in the knowledge economy.

Take this blog for instance. When is it perfect?

  • How do I know when it contains all the requisite parts?
  • I could write on this topic forever as I’ll never achieve something that could not be made better.
  • But I could call it perfect when I think I’ve conveyed my point.

I read recently that the federal Department of Transportation took over three weeks, many people and countless hours just to write one tweet. This is perfection run amok and the problem with the second definition of perfection. In the knowledge economy, nothing ever achieves perfection in a way that it could not be made better.

In the manufacturing economy you can almost achieve the second meaning of perfection but in the knowledge economy, you have to stop at being satisfied when something has attained its purpose.

That’s why when I do something I always ask myself how little I can do to meet my objective. That for me is attaining perfection. And that’s why there are ofetn speling, grammarical, and compositionel errors in this blog.