Tag Archives: perfection

Woody Allen Way Of Work


Woody Allen is one of my favorite directors. Not all of his movies are necessarily great, but on the other hand he is doing about one good movie constantly every year. He explained his work ethic in the recent interview:

“I’m lazy and an imperfectionist. Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese will work on the details until midnight and sweat it out, whereas for me, come six o’clock, I want to go home. I want to have dinner. Filmmaking is not [the] end-all be-all of my existence” 

The comment raises important point. Does it make sense to try to be perfect? Woody Allen is naturally superbly talented and even a half-hearted attempt from him is way better than from majority of directors. Would you want your legacy to be around 50 good movies (as a director and even more as a writer) or just one excellent (and maybe couple of unfinished ones)? Is your good other people´s excellent? If you have tendency to perfectionism, you are the harshest and quite often the most unfair judge of your own work.

There is a balance in perfection and production output. The more you try to perfect, the less you produce.

Dr. Dre just announced that after 16 years in making his magnum opus “Detox” will never come out:

“I didn’t like it. It wasn’t good. The record, it just wasn’t good. I worked my ass off on it, and I don’t think I did a good enough job.”

It is great virtue to be self-critical, but should you cut your losses earlier? Naturally Dr. Dre did not exactly just sat on his laurels during that time, but still. Maybe you should realize that you are not making the masterpiece earlier? Or maybe you just should be less self-critical? Woody Allen makes this exact point:

“My problem is that I’m middle class. If I was crazy I might be better. If I shrieked on the set and demanded, it may be better, but I don’t. I say, ‘Good enough!’ It’s a middle-class quality, which does make for productivity.”

Maybe we need less wannabe perfectionists and crazies reaching desperately for the perfect work in our industry and more people, who can churn good stuff out constantly.

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Pay Attention to Detail: No Brown M&Ms

If I would be a famous rock artist, I definitely would demand local AA meeting schedules, a sub-machine gun, a 12-foot boa constrictor and a jar of Grey Poupon mustard. And I am not making these ones up; this is straight from Mötley Crüe´s rider.

One of the most famous demands has been the removal of brown M&Ms for Van Halen, which according to urban legend resulted in trashing the hotel room when there were some brown candies in bowl. While at glance it is on the same level of ridiculousness as a rainbow on wheels, it actually served a practical purpose.

van halen rider

During the time this request was made, Van Halen was the biggest, loudest and flashiest of the metal bands. This resulted that their show was also demanding from technical perspective not only with their riders with KY tube jelly. Some of the venues were old and not necessarily that up-to-date with technical or safety requirements. Brown M&Ms served as an indicator of how seriously the concert organizers paid attention to detail. If there were brown candies, that meant they should probably check the technical setup on stage as well. David Lee Roth explains the thinking below:

Attention to detail is an important skill; because it is the most visible manifestation of that you give a shit. If you have job application full of typos and presentation with wrong date, it gives a message that essentially you do not care.

All relationships are based on passion & reliability, and you have to be able to convey both of these traits. One of them can be the driving force, but you cannot neglect either of them if you want to make it last.

You also have to know when to switch details-mode off. There is a time when everything needs to be 100% and there are moments when you can be more relaxed. I have seen so many perfectionists already burn themselves out on trivial tasks and then failing in game-changing moments. It is probably the most important skill to learn in work: when to put it all in and when to just wing it. Some idealists can say that you should always give all in, but that just leads to exhaustion, depression and broken dreams.

It is like sports. You do not need to run as fast as you can as long you run faster than others.

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How Making Sushi Helps You Find The Perfection

Every professional, whether they like sushi or not, should see the following movie:

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is probably one of the most impressive documentaries I have seen this year. It tells the life story of 85-year old Jiro Ono, who is regarded as one of (if not) the best shokunin. That means sushi chef and also mastery of profession in Japanese. His restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro is probably only 3-star Michelin restaurant which is located in MRT station.

The movie is not really about coking, altough you get a decent amount of food porn and sushi money shots in the film. It is about finding the true mastery, searching the perfection and finding the meaning of life (in work). While I tend to get my nigiris from the store, there are many lessons everyone should learn from Jiro. You can be shokunin in other professions as well:

1. Inspiration (Perspiration)
Becoming a sushi master takes years and years or hard work. You first start with washing dishes and gradually move to the more difficult tasks. If you have been succesful as an apprentice, maybe after a decade you are worthy to cook the tamagoyaki. This means thousands of repetitions, iterations and failures in your working career. Good example of this in the movie is when apprentice explains how he started to cry, when he finally made egg sushi which was adequate quality for the sushi masters. He had made hundreds of attempts of making it the best.
There is never shortcut for mastery, just one way: the hard way.

2. Improvisation
The menu of good restaurant changes daily, according to what is available on the local fish market. Same way the business climate and situations vary every day and are not necessarily related to you at all. You have to find ways to cope, adapt and challenge these situations. The outcome must be great in any case.
You have to able to reach perfection, despite the circumstances.

3. Innovation
Despite the strong appreciation of the traditions, good shokunin also innovates. Jiro himself has been inventor of many sushi dishes, which did not exist before him. Like the title of the movie suggests, he used to dream about different ways to make sushi and then fulfilled those dreams in his restaurant. In similar fashion as professionals we have to keep on moving and constantly re-inventing ourselves. Otherwise we end up doing the same thing over and over again. Eventually we realize that no one wants that same thing anymore.
Knowing the history is worthless, if you are not willing to change it.

Also Jiro teaches us one important lesson: there is no retirement for true master. I hope that when I will be almost 90 year old, I am still going strong and try to find perfection.

Are you shokunin in your work?

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