Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The perfectionist's honey trap

Lately I've been watching old episodes of Cake Boss on YouTube. I'm enjoying it because I like cake decorations (I've already fessed up to that), and the show is funny and genuine. For those who have no clue what I'm talking about, Cake Boss is a TLC reality TV show following day-to-day life in Carlo's Bakery, a Hobolen NJ landmark establishment. Of course I also look at the situations from a Theory of Constraints point of view. Seems to me, although it could be just editing, that Dr. Lisa Lang, over at Science of Business, with their Velocity job shop scheduling system and maybe some Critical Chain Project Management skills could come in pretty handy for them. I'd also get his sisters, who run their store, to read "Isn't It Obvious" to get some new ideas about retail and expansion. But, that's not my subject for this post.

The reason I'm bringing this up is the fact that Buddy Valastro, the "Cake Boss" himself, is a self professed "perfectionist". After I brought up the subject of perfectionism Vs. satisficing is my last post, and following some reactions on LinkedIn groups, I started thinking if I can use Buddy as a test case (with all due respect, of course).

First off the bat, before I even dive in, I realize that one man's optimizing can be another's satisficing or it may not even make the bar. So, if you go back to my original Satisficing post, both of my cakes would have met with the inside of the Carlo's bakery trash can. My best is not good enough for them and that's fine. Optimizing and satisficing are subjective and maybe even personal. I write maybe because when your job's on the line the fact that you, subjectively, feel you've done good enough is just not that relevant.

Buddy's a pro, he's really good at what he does and he wants everything to be perfect. This leads, at least on the TV screen, to stress, outbursts, rework, hurt feelings and fear. It also creates a self enforcing loop (remember loops?) in which each time Buddy and his team step up to a challenge, delivering perfect cakes that are bigger, wilder and more impossible, someone (Buddy, his family or a client) comes up with an even harder challenge. Is this necessarily negative? I don't know. There are clearly positive implications, staying ahead of the competition and being interesting enough for your own reality TV show, to name a couple. Then there are clearly negative implications as these projects amplify and generate a lot of the stress, outbursts and stuff I already mentioned (and, yes, I know this can all be just editing).

I think this clearly showcases the honey trap of the perfectionist. Perfectionists always strive for more, for better. While they drive themselves and those around them nuts, they can also come through with amazing results. After all, being the best means doing something that has never been done before, otherwise it can't be The best with a capital T. Think about Nadia Comăneci's 1976 Olympic performance. She scored perfect 10s for her performance then, the first female to ever score a perfect 10 (the score watch did not have the 10.00 option as it was considered impossible). Had this exact performance been repeated now - would it be hard enough, impressive enough to justify the perfect score? Not at all, the bar has been raised. So, the more you strive to deliver, the higher the bar for best and perfect become, not just from you but from anybody delivering these types of outputs. So, to stay the best you have to do more and then even more. It's a never ending cycle, with all the positive and negative implications. Is it worth it? in the Olympics? Sure, in the business world? Maybe not.

I have an idea on how to break the loop with help from the customers themselves. It needs some thinking, but if you want me to work on it - press the Like +1 button and I'll know.
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