Perfectionist or pragmatist?

1 Apr

One of our placement students was described by her supervisor as the ‘consummate professional’. So I probed to learn her weaknesses. It appeared she can become frustrated with colleagues. There are signs to me in this instance of a perfectionist at work.

Here’s the paradox. People are hired to jobs because they have strong skills and a burning desire to succeeed. But in my experience public relations practitioners tend to be pragmatists, not perfectionists.

When I think about the many talented people I’ve worked with in various PR roles, it was always the pragmatists who succeeded, and the perfectionists who burnt out.

I’d welcome any challenges to this generalisation, before I put off a generation of students who might otherwise become consummate professionals.

4 Responses to “Perfectionist or pragmatist?”

  1. Paul Amourdedieu 01/04/2004 at 9:40 pm #

    First, I’m unsure whether I would use the term ‘Pragmatist’ and ‘Perfectionist’, but hey…
    OK before I challenge your generalisation, I’d like to contradict everything I’m about to say and agree, partially, with your statement!
    I have worked within, I would argue, three of the UK’s top agencies as well as alongside many more and, though process is essential in any successful business, I am guilty of, at times, feeling hugely frustrated by the large numbers of standard pragmatic practitioners in the Intl PR industry who are just focussed on getting the job done as quick and easy as possible.
    These pople are often essential because, by their very nature, they will allow nothing to go wrong. They dot the i’s and cross the t’s and ensure the activity is a success – the campaign, project or programme may just be missing that extra spark of greatness. But then, if it’s a success, who would know that anyway?
    However, is this not the reason why the perfectionists, or those who encourage perfection, stand head and shoulders above much of the rest (the odd few will always slip through). We all know at least one, be it the lad in your team or the girl on your course. I can name individuals I have worked with/for, such as Paul Taafe (H&K), Mark Borkowski and Matthew Freud (and there are others out there) who I believe are genuinely passionate about what they do, their profession and their desire to take the whole communications industry forward. In turn, within these agencies – in fact in every company to greater or lesser quantities, I would argue that you have a number of perfectionists who, though maybe small in numbers, will shine, make their mark and move quicker than their peers. Obviously at times this evolution doesn’t occur so they move onto other agencies where they can recognise their value and be fully appreciated for it.
    I still am amazed at the number of people who, soon after joining X company turn into a standard X employee and becomes part of the furniture. Don’t get me wrong, they may be good, even great, at their job but it’s sometimes plain to see that they are just going through the motions /not pushing themselves to the limits. And maybe this is the casing point? Jumping off the fence… maybe the pragmatist is happy doing as they do without pushing boundaries and so lives a much less stressful life. The perfectionist is, by nature, one who will continually strive to do better, create more and examine an issue from every angle and so has a greater chance of burning out. That is of course unless you are a Taffe, Borkowski or Freud of the world!
    Then again, maybe the pragmatist is just a better internal politician than the perfectionist who is otherwise focussed on the job!
    I look forward to seeing more people like your student in the industry. In fact, I think you should encourage it!

  2. jan 02/04/2004 at 3:02 pm #

    I am heading towards a career in pr when I graduate at the end of this year. I admit I am a perfectionist. Having worked at various companies over the course of my studies, I have come to realise that the corporate culture of a company often dictates an employees behavior. I have met several practioners who have very little professional knowledge but have managed to survive in an organisation through manipulation of ‘office politics’. The pragmatic person looks for opportunities and loopholes in the organisation to move ahead. Although he may climb the corporate ladder, his real value to the organisation is questionable. On the other hand, the perfectionist who seeks to achieve the highest standard in his work is often oblivious to the work culture around him. As a student, I have been trained to do my best, and more. However, realities, pressures and environment can stifle the perfectionist.

  3. john cass 05/04/2004 at 1:50 am #

    Some of the best practitioners I know were perfectionists. They were completely passionate about getting things right. Perhaps it’s a matter of quality control? There is a trend in software engineering away from keeping testing as another part of the software development process. Now developers are expected to test as they code. Basically by the time they deliver the code the application has to be fully functioning and working without a test phase. Maybe we all have to understand that humans make mistakes and by putting mechanisms in place to reach accurate results on delivery we can both be perfect 😉 and calm.

  4. G 16/04/2004 at 9:11 am #

    Agree with everything that’s been said so far but will add that perhaps the thing to bear in mind is that as practitioners offering strategic advice, it may be better to find the balance between being pragmatic (and by this Richard, I take it you mean, being aware of the realities of the job and the role of PR, knowing what your limitations are and looking to improve where possible) and a perfectionist, rather than falling into an extreme.

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