Reaching Goals by Avoiding Perfection: Conquering Zeno’s Paradox

The perfect hell might be a world where you forever get halfway to a goal, but never reach it. My question for you today is, “How many goals are you forever reaching toward, and what can you do, today, to actually reach them?”

Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox states, “That which is in locomotion must arrive at the half-way stage before it arrives at the goal.” Because there is always a halfway point, the object never reaches its destination. If Zeno were correct, reaching goals would be impossible. And sometimes reaching goals can feel like an impossible dream!

I say it’s about time that we show those pesky Greek philosophers that we mean to finish things! But perhaps before you judge them too harshly, you should realize there is great wisdom in this observation, wisdom that applies to this day, particularly to the development of software, businesses and other creative endeavors, and complex products.

Whether you are creating a software product or a software business, the key to reaching goals is to avoid two related goblins – perfectionism and scope creep. Together, they are the enemy of creation. Let’s look at their application to the creation of software, technology, and businesses, and reaching goals along the way to that “good enough” place where you are making money from your creation.

In the “real” (physical) space in which we move, the Discontinuity Paradox can be disproven by contradiction – simply walk from Point A to Point B, and you will indeed reach Point B in a finite amount of time. Calculus provides a mathematical solution to the Paradox, but some modern philosophers claim it still has metaphysical relevance. I posit that there is a third situation where it may apply, and that situation is anywhere the goal does not involve a physical journey but a series of steps that nonetheless represent a journey.

For Grow Your Org readers, that situation would be the creation of a new business, the growth of a new branch of an existing business, or the creation of a new business. The important journey is taking your product to market – getting it out into the world.

Imagine, somewhere on the horizon, the Perfect Application. It is completely free of defects. It does exactly what the user wants it to do, when the user wants it done, in an intuitive manner.

Because the application is Perfect, there are an infinite number of things it can do. As you work on it, you think of more and more things that it could do, that would make it even more perfect. Some of these things are rather easy to implement, so why not just take a little more time and add them in?

Technology and software are created by human creativity and ingenuity, which literally have no limits. Therefore, it is entirely possible to move toward them, always going only partway to the finish line.

My “favorite” principle of agile software development is “the art of maximizing the amount of work not done.” (I have written about this in relation to our lives in general in an earlier post entitled Positive Procrastination.) Rather than focusing on perfection, instead you focus on completion of the highest value features. Then you get the software in the hands of your customers.

I will be writing more about how to apply agile principles and techniques to the creation of software, products, and companies in future newsletters, but for now, I recommend highly that if you have not yet done so, go read the Twelve Principles of Agile Software Development. And don’t worry if you’re not in software – they can apply to any business or process. The Dynamic Business Roadmap approach that I teach and condone is based on these principles.

(In future posts I will also write and teach more about the misapplication of agile – what happens when agile becomes a religion instead of a framework.)

Your Goal Might be Moving, Too! When my son was about 3 years old, he and I went on a train trip. The dining car was in front of us, so we stepped into the aisle and began to walk toward it. Suddenly he stopped moving and stood completely still. When I asked him why he had stopped walking, he replied, “Let’s just ride the train to the dining car.” By continually adding features or requirements, you make it impossible to reach your goal.

Getting back to our Paradox – Principle #3 of the agile manifesto begins, “Deliver working software frequently…” Frequent iterations and releases keep your product moving forward and allow your customers to let you know what real (as opposed to imaginary) value it has to them. You may think Feature X is wonderful – they may describe it as a bug.

Apple is often cited as a company that has been very, very good at doing “good enough”. Get the product out there. Let people play with it. Sure, there will be complaints. But meanwhile you will learn how people use it, and you can walk that next halfway point toward your goal.

The number one reason that new software companies fail is that they never release their product, or they miss getting it to market when the timing is right.

You need to get to Good Enough, and start that business, release that product, get it out into the world.

Each time you are tempted to add just that one little thing before the next release, remember that each new feature introduces unknown risk. Innovate, yes, but RELEASE. Release early, release often, and get going.

If you don’t even have a software or technology business yet, perhaps you’re forever moving halfway closer to it, but never quite reaching your goal. Maybe it’s time to find a goal that’s Good Enough, and reach it.

I’ll end by coming back to the beginning – How many goals are you halfway toward, and what can you do, today, to actually reach them?

About Marilyn Walker, Ph.D.

Marilyn Walker is Founder and Lead Consultant at Grow Your Org. She helps businesses plan and manage growth, with a specialty in technology.
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