Perfection and Excellence

Both of these words impute a heightened and aspirational state of brilliance. The desire to achieve these states is a constant mention in the offices and boardrooms of many organizations. I have grappled with the true actionable meaning of these words myself.

As an operations person, I have seen my teams, clients, partners, and colleagues use these words interchangeably. While in general both words mean stretching to reach a higher ground, they are extremely different in terms of operational states.

Here’s what the words literally mean:


The condition, state, or quality of being free from all flaws or defects. There is no more improvement possible.


The quality of brilliance, distinction, fineness, being outstanding, etc.


Perfection indicates a state where no improvement is possible. It is the ceiling of what can be or is in the realm of possibility to be achieved. It’s the pinnacle. A full stop. This is certainly possible when it comes to emotions – where we define an emotional moment as the best it could ever get…or as perfect. A perfect kiss, a perfect gesture, a perfect embrace, etc., are relevant. There are no external benchmarks for one’s own emotions and feelings, which means they can be considered accurate statements and sentiments.

Can any business be at this state? Let’s reflect on that for a moment. It would be a state where:

  • Shareholders have achieved the highest value possible
  • There is no room for further innovation
  • Employees and customers are as happy as they can be
  • Revenues and profits are as best as they can be…at a pinnacle…

If any business chose to define a moment like this in its existence, then that is the point from where their business would start dying. There is nowhere up from that point forward!

The same can be said for any professional entity – be it operations, sales, R&D, etc.

[bctt tweet=”Perfection is abstract and unattainable, strive for excellence instead!” username=”jolera”]


On the other hand, excellence is a state of current brilliance, but it can be improved upon.

In 1991, Carl Lewis defined excellence in 100m racing by clocking in at 9.86 seconds. In 2009 Usain Bolt’s world record run was clocked at 9.58 seconds. There were 8 other world records between 1991 and 2009…all redefining excellence in the 100m race. Note that there will never be a perfect 100m race – there will always be excellence that will await betterment.

Take any example of innovation and evolution such as automobiles, space travel, aircrafts, phones, computers, fashion, etc…excellence is achieved and then changes continually.

5 ways to achieve excellence

1. Being the best you can be

No matter what the field be, by each team member being the best that they can be, as a collective the team will be at its best – as a result achieving their best!

2. Benchmark against the best

It is not enough just being your best. Benchmark against the best in the same faculty in order to determine what the aspirational stretch is.

3. Continuous Improvement is the name of the game

What was excellent yesterday can be improved upon today. Even by improving by 1%, the definition of excellence would be redefined.

4. Desire to innovate

Comfort in the status quo never leads to improvements. The desire to innovate fuels challenging the status quo and making changes happen.

5. Purposeful leadership

It takes a strong organizational purpose that creates the demand for excellence in order for it to breed within the environment. Leaders of the organization are responsible for providing and permeating such a purpose within the organization.

As a leader, I would much rather focus my team on a real and tangible aspiration – achieving excellence through being the best you can be and doing the best that can be done!

So, next time you mention a desire for something to be perfect at work, and it is not an emotional statement, correct yourself. You are actually seeking excellence.
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