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Great is Better than Perfect

Posted by Rick Wren on Jun 3rd 2021

Great is Better than Perfect

I can walk up to any window cleaning job and find mistakes if I want to. “You missed a spot,” is more than just a joke, it’s a way of life. I don’t care who you are and how long you’ve been cleaning glass, I can find a mark, streak on the glass and a ledge or sill that could use a little more attention. It’s what I’ve trained myself to do. It’s what I’m conditioned to notice. We all are.

I have a friend who plays the guitar and has played on stage and in the studio with some great bands. He can pick out mistakes in almost every recording. He’ll talk about missed beats, wrong cords, late pickups. These are things I would never catch and often I don’t hear what he hears even when he replays it and I’m listening carefully.

Have you ever watched Olympic diving or gymnastics? I have. I’ll see an absolutely flawless triple spinning double twist whatever and be in awe, yet the judges will give it a 9.2 and the announcers will point out that their left foot was an inch or so out of line with the body and their hand wasn’t in the perfect position or some such thing.

What I’m asking is that perfection might be attainable, but is it worth it?

Let yourself off the hook. Decide on a standard of quality that works for you and be okay with reaching it.

I sold Rainbow Vacuum cleaners for a little while before I joined the military. It’s a kind of vacuum with a water tank. One of the neat tricks we would do is go into a customer’s home and ask them to clean a section of carpet with their machine. Then we would fill the Rainbow’s tank with clean water, put a small piece of linen over the hose and then put on the carpet attachment. We’d clean right over where they had cleaned and pull that cloth out, showing them how much gross dirt and hair came out.“Obviously your vacuum isn’t doing the job.”

What we didn’t show them is that if they did the same trick with their old machine, it would produce the same result. No matter how many times you clean a carpet with a vacuum, something is going to come up. No carpet is perfectly clean.

In economics we talk about the concept of diminishing returns. How much more effort do you need to expend in order to achieve a better result? A simple example I can give is cleaning a set of windows. Perhaps it takes you 10 minutes to clean it well - so well that the customer will look at it and see a clear view, no streaks and the frames are clean. But what if you want it so clean that when another professional inspects the work they find no marks or drips or little residue of dirt and dust in the frame corners and a smooth clean finish on the aluminum? Would that take another 10 minutes? Maybe 20? Is it worth that amount of extra time? Do you make any more money for the extra effort?Where do you draw the line?

I know I’m asking a lot more questions than I’m answering and the reason for that is that you’re going to have to make those decisions for yourself.

The one thing you’ll hear the most in this industry is window cleaners saying they are the best. Window cleaners have no shame and less humility. But I ask, the best at what? Producing a clean window? Going the fastest? Making the most money? Getting the best reviews? Selling the most jobs? Being the best is pretty vague until you know what this person really thinks they are good at doing.

My tech was nearly in tears last week when she returned a repaired screen door and while taking it out of the truck, she dropped it and the screen ripped again. Sometimes, even when you try so hard to do the best job, things happen. It’s okay. It can be fixed again. The thing I realized is that her disappointment was due to the pressure she put on herself. She wasn’t giving herself a break. That’s hard. It’s heartbreaking.

It’s also important to realize that others on your team might be putting more pressure on themselves than you’re putting. They might want to do a better job than you need them to and sometimes that’s self-defeating. It’s a fine line to walk and you should understand it and recognize it.

My newest crew leader was trying so hard to live up to what he perceived was my expectations that he didn’t call in for help on a job and ended up so frazzled that he blew up at another employee. I had to explain again that asking for help is never letting anyone down, instead it’s recognizing a problem and finding a solution. I’d rather have someone ask for help than make a mistake or damage something - every.single.time.

Great saves time over perfect.
Great makes more money than perfect.
Great is perfect to most observers.

Great gets you home at a decent hour.

Great succeeds.

I know it seems like this is common sense. But you’ll find yourself and your crew getting too focused on perfection and other things will suffer. Give yourself permission to finish a job and end your day. Give yourself a standard to reach and even though that standard is high, it’s still possible.

I like to say that I give each member of our team the ability to succeed. That’s only possible if your standards and your set goals are within reach.

I’m here if you have questions.

- Rick Wren