Prince, Steve Jobs, and Picasso Were Not Perfectionists

Debunking the myth of the creative perfectionist.

You don’t have to be a perfectionist to make great things.

It’s easy to assume a relentless pursuit of perfection is what separates successful creators from the pack, but that’s not true.

The creative perfectionist is a myth.

Perfectionists are “people who refuse to accept any standard short of perfection,” according to the dictionary.

That may sound like an accurate description of creators like Prince, Steve Jobs, and Pablo Picasso, but they weren’t actually perfectionists.

They were passionate, demanding, and obsessed with quality, but also recognized the power of intuition and failure.

Each, in their own way, valued imperfection as much as they pursued its opposite.

Prince trusted intuition over perfection.

“I want to make heart decisions in business. If you can’t do that, you’re not free.” — Prince

Perfection is often a shorthand to describe someone who’s prepared and precise. By that definition, it’s possible no musician has ever been more “perfect” than Prince.

But in one of the biggest moments of his career, he leaned on his intuition at the potential expense of perfection.

Prince had spent months preparing for his memorable 2007 Super Bowl halftime show and put his band through countless rehearsals, perfecting every note and beat of his planned performance.

But in the Dolphin Stadium dressing room moments before he took the field to perform, Prince decided to switch things up.

He changed the arrangements of songs on the spot and removed the horn players from the band completely because for some reason he suddenly wanted to go horn-less that day.

This decision was not likely to make his more performance more “perfect,” yet he was willing to scrap so much of what had been meticulously planned and rehearsed in favor of trusting his instincts.

It was the move of an artist— not a perfectionist — and resulted in arguably the greatest Super Bowl performance of all time.

It offers a lesson worth remembering in your own creative pursuits.

As important as it is to prepare, rehearse, and aim for perfection, it’s just as vital to trust your creative instincts in the moment.

Steve Jobs didn’t shy away from failure.

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes.” — Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs pursuit of perfection was legendary, but it’s his take on failure which may be more notable.

For all the hype around his accomplishments and innovations, Jobs has a list of failures every bit as long.

College dropout.

Kicked out of his own company.

The NeXT computer.

Multiple failed attempts to sell Pixar before the company ultimately hit it big.

A perfectionist wouldn’t have suffered these failures well, but Jobs understood failure was not something to be feared, but rather embraced.

Unlike most perfectionists, he believed failure was very much an option and a necessary one.

Here’s his take on failure in his own words:

Picasso realized perfection wasn’t the point.

“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” — Pablo Picasso

Most artists follow a similar trajectory — their initial creations attempt to portray things as realistically as possible (to create “perfect” images) and their later work features increasingly unrealistic portrayals (less “perfect”).

There are many reasons for this, but one of them is likely that as artists progress in their career they become increasingly aware perfection is impossible.

The more they realize this, the less they try to create perfection, and the more interesting their art becomes.

Pablo Picasso’s work is a perfect example of this evolution.

Below are two of his self-portraits: The first created when he was 18-years-old and the second at 90.

You don’t have to be Picasso to realize perfection isn’t the goal of your creations and that realization can free you to create truly original work.

It turns out one of the best ways to become a great creator is to abandon the expectation that you need to be a perfect one.