11 February, 2013
The infinite monkey theorem states:
a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.
This is purely a theoretical hypothesis, and the crux of this post, so don't go buying a bunch of typewriters and unleashing a simian army at them. That said, take a minute to think about what's not being mentioned.
What's the quality of aforementioned complete works of William Shakespeare? What about the extra stuff around it? How about the legibility of these works?
Which brings me to the title of this post. A simian horde can never be a substitute for the famous bard from Stratford-upon-Avon if only because he put something into his works that these monkeys can't – attention to detail and the eye for perfection. Now, think about what you do and how it fits into all of this.
I posit that most people aim to just produce work – often volumes of it to justify their existence – without really pushing it to the point of perfection, or worse, without even knowing what perfection means. There's the famous Steve Jobs quote:
When you're a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You'll know it’s there, so you're going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.
What this means, for most of us non-carpenter types, is that taking shortcuts and cutting corners, while apparently acceptable and good enough, is just never excellent. The details really do matter. It's the difference between a dinner made with ingredients handpicked from the farmer's market vs a dinner made with ingredients from the "shortcut chef" aisle at the local megamart. Sure, both are similar in that they are both technically dinner, but one has taste and flavor that is memorable and gets associated with pleasure while the other feels like a prelude to heartburn medication.
Looping around to how we can apply this to what we do, it's simple really. Put the extra effort in there. Do whatever you do, and then refine it until you reach that point of perfection. Strip away the excess stuff and bring it down to the most pure state. Tighten every errant font or point and reign in the flourish. Undo the hack and make it right and scalable. Why?
If it wasn't obvious already it's because perfection matters. It makes ideas easier to communicate and concepts easier to understand. It allows the receiver to really experience what you were trying to do in the purest sense without being bogged down in the stuff that's not right. Really, you're doing yourself a service here. The thing you've worked for so hard is given the opportunity to really shine as opposed to being covered in the crud of imperfection and excess.
So, sweat the small stuff. Trust me, it's worth it. The "a-ha!" moment when whoever is receiving what you've created is priceless – ok, maybe not entirely coz you paid the price for it by honing what you created and making it shine like the diamond it truly is. This is the price that you should be willing to pay to be recognized as a creator of great stuff, as opposed to the maker of mediocre stuff.