Hidden Emphasis

Vice President

Perfectionism Is a Brand, Not a Vice

To the dismay of many of us, the opponents of perfectionism are still on the rise. We’re supposed to lower our expectations, to let go. But what if we’re not made for mediocrity? What if all we crave is a little perfection?

Perfectionism Brand: Sushi chef preparing food in Tokyo, Japan
Photo: unsplash.com / Thomas Marban (@thomas)

While making a famous Austrian dessert called Kaiserschmarrn recently, I pondered Wolfgang Puck's process of making it. It’s even more tedious than the way I chose. I also considered how Michelin chefs stuff their turkeys and recipes alike with lots of ingredients, so they become intimidating to reproduce. Why do they strive to meet such a high standard when perfectionism is so frowned upon in today’s society?

Why we are fascinated with Michelin chefs

Chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller built their brands around perfectionism. Being Michelin chefs, they’re expected to consistently get every detail right. And while we, as a society, can enjoy the result of this perfectionism, we're also oddly captivated by watching these chefs cook, learning from them, and buying their books and courses.

Jamie Oliver, by contrast, is not a Michelin chef. And he doesn’t even strive to be one. He achieved fame for exactly the opposite of what Puck and Keller do: almost randomly throwing ingredients into a pot, stirring it up, then sliding it onto a plate as if it is no effort at all. (Spoiler: It was no effort at all.)

Anyone who has tried cooking Keller’s and Oliver’s recipes knows that the latter taste just the way they look. But it’s not that hard to create recipes that are both simple and delicious, and many other cooks serve this market successfully. Why would people spend so much time and effort cooking sophisticated dishes when there are easier alternatives?

Mediocrity is not fascinating

Even though we love to hate perfectionism because we'd rather eliminate any seemingly unnecessary burdens, we actually admire it. At least, some demographics do. That’s why MasterClass is so successful. Their concept was not created around learning mediocre skills from mediocre people. Viewers are supposed to learn from the best (even if most classes turn out to be rather superficial).

In the end, it’s not about people following your instructions. When I replicate Thomas Keller’s recipes, I usually take it down a notch. I could probably just as well follow the much-easier instructions of an average cook, but part of cooking a recipe is admiring its creator. It makes us feel accomplished to learn from the best instead of just striving for average.

Make it your brand

When you consider dumbing down your personal brand so that more people will resonate with it, beware. If you naturally tend towards perfectionism, you won’t be successful at letting things go.

Instead, build a brand around your perfectionism. Even if your audience implements only half of your recommendations, they’ll still admire you for the effort you invest. And after all, aiming at 100 and hitting 70 is still better than aiming at 50 and hitting 50. If you’ve found the right audience, they’ll know.