Do not fear perfection, you’ll never achieve it

Impossible Perfection by mikecogh, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  mikecogh 

The title of this post is a quote attributed to Salvado Dali. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it appears to fit very nicely with a struggle a couple of the participants in the NETGL course are having. The desire to get everything “perfect” is getting in the way of engaging in the network. This appears somewhat connected with the more traditional approach to formal education and perhaps the understandable desire not to be seen to make a mistake.

I’d like to suggest that to get the most out of the NetGL course there needs to be a shift to a different mindset. One perhaps better represented by the Dali quote and a saying I’ve been using for a few years

It’s not how bad you start, it’s how quickly you get better

For me this idea arose out of the difference between teleological and ateleological processes. The teleological approach (aka the planning approach process) is based on the idea of knowing exactly what you’re going to do before you do it and then planning how you’ll most efficiently achieve that plan. The ateleological approach (aka the learning approach to process) starts with where you are, makes a small change in response to local needs and learns from that experience.

The reason I think the ateleological approach works better for the type of world that the NetGL course assumes arises from Introna’s (1996) identification of the three conditions that must apply if the teleological aprpoach is going to work

  1. The system’s behaviour must be relatively stable and predictable.
  2. The designers must be able to manipulate the system’s behaviour directly.
  3. The designers must be able to determine accurately the goals or criteria for success.

The nature of a distributed world is that it is inherently unstable and unpredictable. You don’t know what’s going to happen so investing lots of time and resources in a fixed plan is wasteful. Better to be able to respond quickly. To get better.


Introna, L. (1996). “Notes on ateleological information systems development.” Information Technology & People 9(4): 20-39.

6 thoughts on “Do not fear perfection, you’ll never achieve it

  1. chrisbigum

    They might find having a read of Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset : the new psychology of success (Ballantine Books trade pbk. ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. may help. The other name to drop into the mix is Derek Muller. Add the word “confusion” into the search. I think a lot of this is like the question once asked of Mahatma Ghandi: “What do you think of Western civilisation?” He replied, “I think it would be a good idea”.

    1. Thanks for the link Chris. I knew about Dweck’s work. Didn’t recognise the name Muller but I actually do use his work in the undergrad talk when talking about Khan Academy. Useful stuff and obviously connects with this course.

  2. Mari

    Love the quote! And yes, you’ve summed it up very nicely here… It is a huge mind-shift to make, but a rewarding one! Thankfully, as a (somewhat) rebellious artist, it is part of my routine to always question the status quo and adapt to new ideas. In some ways I enjoy the process of a learning episode that totally pulls the rug of familiarity from under my feet! This course has done exactly that!

  3. Yes, and old habits die hard.

    The teleological approach of “knowing exactly what you’re going to do before you do it and then planning how you’ll most efficiently achieve that plan” is so drilled into us that it is definitely a learning curve. I like the idea of the ateleological approach as I know in the long run it is definitely the most sustainable.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Pingback: Part C of catching up on NGL | The Weblog of (a) David Jones

  5. Pingback: As a learner, participation in NGL was useful for me | muzedujourney

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