Perfection is worth striving for
n an article in the New York Times in 2006 entitled ”Federer as Religious Experience” David Foster Wallace describes how the Swiss tennis phenomenon, Roger Federer, in a semi-final match at Wimbledon against Jonas Björkman, not only beat the Swede, but destroyed him. At the press conference after the match, Björkman says he was pleased to “have had the best seat in the house” to watch the Swiss “play the nearest to perfection you can play tennis.” After reading this article I thought: What really drives Roger Federer? At this point in 2006 he is the player to win the most prizes ever and there are more points from number 1 (Federer) to number 2 on the world rank, than from number 2 to the last one. Where does that kind of hunger to keep going comes from?
I believe Federer masters the same discipline as athletes like Haile Gebrselassie, Michael Jordan, Cristiano Ronaldo and Tiger Woods. They continue to do everything it takes even though they have won time and time again, earned piles of money and masses of prestige. They have reached a level where perfection is important than winning. It’s a kind of performance idealism. Just take Tiger Woods, who in 2001, while at his very best, broke down his swing in order to rebuild it. He could easily have remained tremendously successful on the same track, but he chose to take one step backwards to give himself the opportunity of perhaps taking two steps forward.
This commitment to never ending improvement and to seeing the goals they achieve as a beginning and not a conclusion is what characterises those who manage to stay at the top not just in the world of sport, but also in business. Take a company like LEGO, today three times as profitable as their worst competitor. They have outdistanced the competition by many lengths. They no longer need to beat the competition. They must beat themselves. Perfection is an unattainable standard, but it’s worth striving for, and continue to strive for.