Short Read: CBB

The perfection of imperfection

There's a fantastic story about Winston Lord writing an important speech for Henry Kissinger, and how Kissinger kept sending it back with a note asking, "Is the best you can do?", to which Winston would reply, "I thought so, but I'll try again". But after each new draft, the speech would come back again with Kissinger asking, "Is the best you can do?" until the ninth time, Winston Lord cracked and wrote back: "Henry! I've beaten my brains out – this is the ninth draft! I know it's the best I can do; I can't possibly improve one more word!!!", to which Kissinger replied: "Well, in that case, now I'll read it."

This story popped into my head yesterday as I send back a good piece of writing from someone, who I suspect thought it finished, but which I said was only the start.

In Hollywood model making, there's a concept called CBB, which stands for 'Could Be Better,' which I guess is a variation on the above story, and I still remember the great Ken Wilson telling me that if you write a book, it best be the best you can do, as it will be in the world forever.

And yet, as with everything, there is light and dark, and so it's also worth writing the following words onto your computer: "perfection is the enemy of good", in that although some say "good enough isn't", I say "it often is", as perfection is always the unreachable endpoint, and what's more important is to head in its direction.

I see this a lot in my stuff, as well as life, the things I could dwell on, the stumbled and fumbled opportunity, how I messed important things - possible branches in life - by not taking caring enough or caring too much. Because I can't spell, and lack an eye for error, and I'm always in a rush, everything I write is a disappointment. Every mistake is an invite to brush me off as stupid (how can someone form valid ideas if they cannot even create valid sentences?). Every day, maybe four or five times, I will open my last book and will find an error, something minor, sometimes big, and have the opportunity to mourn for perfection, but then I close the book and just try and learn from that mistake. As I said, perfection is a process and is always out of reach because the closer it comes, the more you're able to define what it is, the further out of reach it is.

Instead, it's best to focus more on the quality of your skill, your craftsmanship, the eye for detail, your judgement is who you look to help and support you in the things you do, as well as your critics (the better you are the more critics you'll get, because envy is more powerful than ambivalence).

But if you want an escape clause, something to hold onto when you really feel you let yourself down, feel dejected and crush by the failure to usher up perfection (all part of the process, I assure you,), say these words from McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest: "I tried, goddammit. At least I did that."