In today’s competitive landscape where 20% of small businesses don’t survive past two years, it’s tempting to hold out for perfection when launching a new start-up. Which makes sense—no one wants to produce, market, or sell a product or service that’s less-than. But grasping tightly to the ideal of perfection can be a barrier to creativity and growth. Perhaps even worse, perfectionism also hinders the hallmarks of successful companies—innovation, efficient decision-making, and the ability to pivot and learn from mistakes.

In my first career as a design professional, I learned that experimentation is key to progressing ideas, and to embrace progress over perfection. This mindset is a way of being that values iteration and ongoing learning—including the important role of mistakes—and can help you and your team develop flexibility and resiliency. Such traits have always benefited businesses, but they’re increasingly essential in today’s post-pandemic world. Here are four areas that benefit from prioritizing progress over perfection.

DEVELOPING NEW PRODUCTS 

At Mamava, the design for our freestanding lactation pods is constantly evolving and improving. We placed our first pod in 2013, but had we waited for the perfect moment or the perfect product for all scenarios, we might still be incubating our concept. Instead, we believed that providing a new form of support for breastfeeding parents—and getting it out in the world—was more important than providing a perfect product for all use cases right out of the gate.

BUILDING COMPANY CULTURE

Companies that value innovation and agility often attract similar qualities in the employees they hire. But you can also foster a workplace culture that values and rewards the ability to change course. Whether it’s transitioning to remote work or recognizing when team roles need to change, companies that prioritize progress over perfection send the message to their employees that being adaptable matters.

As CEO, I recently assumed oversight of the product team after we purchased our manufacturing facility, our VP of Marketing has shifted focus from content strategy (handing that over to a colleague stepping up to a new role) to the digital details of demand generation, and our Director of Product has extended her purview beyond pod go-to-market strategy to include overseeing our mobile app and IOT (and thereby stretching the very meaning of “agile”).

While these challenges are opportunities for professional development, they’re also signs of a team that can adapt to the start-up reality of constantly changing conditions and needs.

IMPROVING INTERNAL PROCESSES

Valuing progress over perfection is how my team and I approach all of our internal process improvements (if “test-and-learn” is a motto, it’s ours!). We empower our colleagues to have the agency they need to make changes and recommendations. The marketing team has explored a variety of project management tools—moving from spreadsheets to Basecamp to Trello to Monday—to find the tool best suited to their needs, and don’t even ask me about the number of CRM tools we demoed before deciding on Hubspot.

Taking the time to experiment, identify problems, and discover (and learn!) the right solution is part of the process, and will keep you growing and moving forward without ever feeling stuck.

GROWING AS A LEADER

Finally, my leadership team and I always believe in being frank and upfront about both challenges and opportunities. Being forthright about how decisions are made, taking ownership for any mistakes, and engaging in hard conversations with courage, curiosity, and compassion will establish a sense of trust among colleagues, and demonstrate to them that navigating the bumpy parts is the only way to get stronger and go farther—together.


Sascha Mayer is the CEO and Co-founder of Mamava. Mamava, based in Burlington, VT, is the leading expert in lactation space design. 

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