Office of Culture and Experience

Perfection-Not Required

May 30, 2017 • Leadership, Values



An eight-year-old third grader approaches her teacher for the fourth time, asking the teacher to check her answers before she turns in her language arts assignment.  Exasperated, the teacher gives the worksheet a quick glance and says, “looks great!” Not sure the response is genuine, the girl plops down at her desk to give the page one more review.  After another “double-check,” she finally turns in the paper.

I am a perfectionist.  As you can see from the anecdote above, I have been this way for a long time.  While at times it can be a strength, I can see details others miss and help teams anticipate and work around roadblocks, it can also be a real hindrance to moving forward.

I recently read a pair of articles by Martin A. Schwartz from the University of Virginia about the importance of not knowing all the answers and not being attached to having the “right” answers for effective and ethical scientific research.  He describes how meaningful research requires venturing into the unknown and understanding the tie to something bigger than ourselves.  This means trying, failing, learning, and trying again.  In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor calls this “falling up”.  Imperfection can be a learning opportunity that propels you forward.

For me, this connected to our vision at UNTHSC: One university, built on values, defining and producing the providers* of the future.  We are wading into unknown territory as an institution.  To succeed, we must turn the behaviors aligned with Our Value, Be Visionary, into a way of life.  We must challenge the status quo-identify new ways to educate the providers of the future, create unique solutions- work across teams to create better experiences, and take thoughtful risks-operate without a fear of trying new things.  This may mean that we won’t get it right at times, but those learning experiences will be invaluable to our journey.  Otherwise, we will never be able achieve and sustain excellence in our constantly changing environment.

Building on Schwartz’s arguments, we need to get comfortable with not having all the answers in a complex environment.  We need to build networks both within and outside the organization to tap into the ideas, experiences, successes, and failures of others.  This includes people outside of our immediate disciplines or fields.  When we see every interaction and experiment as opportunity to learn and create something meaningful, we will start to expand beyond the boundaries of “what is” into the realm of “what could be”.

Jessie Johnson

Office of People Development


Achor, S. (2011). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York, NY: Virgin Publishing.

Schwartz, M.A. (2008). The importance of stupidity in scientific research. Journal of Cell Science. 121, 1771. doi:10.1242/jcs.033340

Schwartz, M.A. (2015). The importance of indifference in scientific research. Journal of Cell Science. 128, 2745-2746. doi:10.1242/jcs.174946.