F Does Reaching for Perfection Stifle Creativity? | tamdoll's workspace

Does Reaching for Perfection Stifle Creativity?

January 17, 2014
I think when we focus on "perfection", it can be a road block to achievement.

Perfection = flawless. That is not the same as having mastery of a skill.

When I'm feeling creative - "perfect" doesn't even come into the picture. Ideas come and go quickly in my mind; I'm lucky if I can capture and articulate them before they disappear. Finding the time to create something is a feat in itself; forget about matched seams or precision. A mistake? Oh, It's Art. Artistic license. Modern interpretation. .... An error can actually inspire me to come up with a creative solution to modify or camouflage.

Often my goal is simply to experience the rush of inspiration and excitement of new ideas.

It comes up often, when I’m teaching knitting, that someone will say “I’m a perfectionist”. As a teacher, I need to work with a student, not against their inclinations. If they are willing to repeat the same stitch pattern for miles of yarn until they get it right - then so be it. I'm the one who needs to let go. Let them practice garter stitch for hours. Then stockinette. Repeats, do overs, correcting mistakes until it's "perfect" - and such a student may, indeed, end up with flawless work. Then again, they may never get beyond the basics, always dissatisfied with less-than-perfect.

Focusing on a very clear goal is important. When learning a new skill, what should it be? Do you want to master a skill or be creative? Is there another goal?

Can a single-minded focus on perfection stifle creativity? I think it can. I do realize that innovation is not for everyone; it is very satisfying to work an established pattern to completion, with proven, expected results. What I need to remind students of, is that the initial goal is to master skills. Consistent, flawless work can follow from that, but usually not before.

You can be innovative & creative even as a beginner.

Where is all of this coming from?

Tamdoll not reaching for perfection with purple mittens

I recently pulled-out & re-knit half a mitten I completed over a year ago, because I couldn't stand a jog in a cable that kept staring me in the face every time I put it on. This mitten was getting on my nerves and the work that I had to do to fix a simple mistake seemed contrary to everything I thought about being “perfect”. Since when did I care about things being flawless? Most of the time, I simply want things to look good, with no concern for precision. I can appreciate irreverent, imperfect things. Maybe a change has come because I know at this point that I don’t have to be satisfied with a glaring mistake – I have the skills to fix it.

There's nothing wrong with wanting flawless work.

Thanks to a mitten, I'm driven to write a blog post.

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few."
- Shunryu Suzuki

Learning never ends, keeping an open mind is important. Once you learn a craft until your skill comes naturally; when you no longer have to concentrate on technique; when hands can do the work without eyes following; or fingertips or the squint of an eye can tell where some balance or texture is needed – in my opinion, that's when your brain is free to innovate. It’s like going for a walk to clear your mind – outside, doing something automatic leaves your brain free of pressures. The mastery of skill (walking) is what makes this possible. On the other hand, the effort to reach perfection is a constant focus that doesn’t leave room for any other thought.

What's my point?

Honing skills, enjoying the process, and being open-minded to always learn new things – to me, these are more important than perfection. Practicing what you are inspired to do can lead the way to creativity.

Your thoughts?

  • Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki


  1. Loved this post so much. And since you invited comment - I have a couple things to add!!! In so many cases, perfection is not necessary but in others, like edge stitching a front tab or collar or making all six diamonds meet perfectly together in the center it is pretty darn important! A wise person knows the difference. One little twisted stitch in a sea of stockinette probably won't be noticed. And learning to live with imperfection is growth. (I left a hole in a scarf I made for my Mother when i was just learning - missed it until she actually pointed it out!!! I told her it was left so any evil thoughts while wearing it would have a way to escape. )

    Your last two sentences speak volumes! And I agree. But what I see all too often these days is apparent disinterest in honing skills. So many sites in the crafty blogiverse these days seem to be written with the idea that few readers have the ability or desire to actually learn and produce well crafted work. I myself have produced posts for crafts I am thinking fall into this category. In the future, my focus will be to try to hone skills, rather than create something of little value that can be slapped together in short order. Where kids are concerned, although I acknowledge their short attention spans, I can't help but feel most would benefit from embarking on a journey to master a skill. They are more than equal to it. And it will leave them richer. Glueing bits of paper on a milk carton to make a bird house is entertainment at best but not a path to learning.

  2. Now you've got me thinking again... I hadn't thought of quilting or garment making when I wrote this - those definitely cannot be done without precision & nobody could get there without a lot of practice!

    I think you hit a nail on the head with the "short attention spans" nowadays (and it's not just kids!) I do see people give up too soon, wanting instant success. You mention creating things quickly - but not everyone can do that! If you don't have the initial skills or creative mind, nothing can be done quickly - it takes time and practice to make something quick and have it done well. Sometimes it's enthusiasm that makes us want to get something done fast & to share it with the world before the ideas escape... but when we go back to that project again and again to learn how to do it better, make it nicer, that's what leads to the gathering of skills.

  3. Hi, just wanted to say, I liked this blog post. It was
    inspiring. Keep on posting!

  4. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate the comment.


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