The pursuit of perfection and Africa’s self-sabotage

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Prioritization of perfection has been associated with stress, burnout, and anxiety in any strategy pursuit. This is as true for individuals as it applies to systems.

 While perfectionists strive to produce flawless work, they are more likely to set inflexible and excessively high standards and to evaluate themselves overly critically and to believe that their self-worth is entirely dependent on performing perfectly.

 With the obvious advantage that perfect results need no promoting when achieved, speaking for themselves, they are often elusive and failure to attain them can set in motion sentiments of self-doubt and certainly can be responsible for operational inefficiencies.
In worst cases, insistence on perfection can set the stage for stalling of work, projects and organizations. The rational approach to achieving results is having the basics in place and starting off, and then refocusing, reworking and revising one’s work methodology along the way. It accommodates room for imperfection. 

Some experts in the psychology of perfectionism have published some useful insights, and the above narrative borrows directly from what they have written. 

Today’s African state is on average sixty years old, counting from the early 1960s when the wave of independence from colonialism swept across most of the continent.
 From the onset, the desire for perfectionism haunted the African state, nearly indiscriminately, as soon as our countries acquired independence. 

From the yearning for perfect democracy systems to the desire for top notch economic schemes, the cravings of the African state have not been few. 

The cravings are good for the continent because setting very low targets is one step towards being comfortable with less than we are capable of. 

However, excessively high targets are equally damaging. 

While alluding to socio-political and socio-economic aspects of our existence, let us dwell more on the strategic implications of the above. 

The political arguments related to this topic are beyond the scope of this commentary because they often tend to be multi-faceted and more complex than direct strategy considerations. 

In our African context, one of the shortfalls of seeking state perfection has been the prioritization of political precision, as a pre-condition for our economic take-off and continued flight. 

As such, our strategic focus and resource allocation gets skewed to the pursuit of political perfection. 
There is nothing wrong with perfect politics, except that it will be a while before we realize it, if the sixty years of post-independence Africa are to go by. 

The perfection – failure grid of the African state is set between two centers of power and influences. With government on one side, defending what they do and communicating achievements, there is always the political opposition framework mainly highlighting failures of government and what African states have failed to achieve. This is the normal structure of democratic government. 

However, we would do well if we had some intersecting ground where the two sides have a level of agreement on what we have achieved and what we have failed to do. Without such intersection, we find ourselves in a position where one side demands perfect performance or nothing, while the other side puts up a rebuttal against this demand. 

We thus end up with a polarized society, with one end seeing nothing good at all and punching holes in everything along their path, while the other side defends everything they do, including the outrageous. 
The two sides are never supplementing to each other, as a result. 

They are always at war, even when circumstances in the atmosphere call for oneness of purpose. In the lay business world, the scenario is analogous to a business control function such as internal audit which when done with their work presents its findings without contextualization of the uniqueness of the business’ operating environment. 

On the other hand, in this analogy, the business management team then trashes all the auditor’s work without giving it thought. There is no value to be found in such a business and control arrangement. 

It might be useful that we put aside the craving for perfect scenarios, because we will not attain them. 

When that is done, we will find common ground and push in the same direction towards our goals, even working from different viewpoints. Without this we are in a tag-of-war situation. We take one step forward and take it backward again.
We jump three steps forward and drop back two steps or more. It is a futile situation even if we shuffle our teams over and over. We shall always have a stressed-out governance system, burnt out from the excesses of avoidable battles, with its efficiency thus compromised. 

Raymond can be contacted on

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