High standards and the quest for perfection

Published 03 October 2022

High standards and the quest for perfection

A fictional celebrity chef and a former British special forces soldier and their attitude to success embody the qualities to succeed with web accessibility.

A temperamental fictional chef

The film Burnt stars Bradley Cooper as Adam Jones. A temperamental celebrity chef striving to do the absolute best in his kitchen.

Demanding perfection from his staff with the food they are cooking. This all comes undone when what he believes are Michelin reviewers arrive at his restaurant.

The food ends up being sabotaged by his sous chef Michel in revenge for ruining Michel's reputation in Paris many years earlier.

What follows is a classic redemption story. Adam wins around his alienated kitchen by being humble and working collaboratively.

When the Michelin reviewers do arrive in the restaurant several weeks later – the first people were businessmen unconnected to Michelin, there is a nervous activity from the kitchen staff and Adam calmly replies, "we do what we do".

Being humble and working collaboratively with the Kitchen he delivers a Michelin-starred experience and redemption from the kitchen staff.

A decorated special forces soldier

Mark Billingham is a decorated British special forces soldier who appears as the directing staff on the reality TV show SAS Who Dares Wins in Australia and the UK.

His attitude to challenging situations is "a little bit further", meaning don’t make unrealistic goals of achieving absolute perfection but do something a little bit better than yesterday. A little bit more effort than normal.

The perfection millstone around the neck

What these two people demonstrate is a willingness to perform better than yesterday but accept that striving for perfection becomes an unattainable goal, an Achilles heel.

Which instead of contributing positively to progress in fact becomes a hindrance and the millstone around the neck.

Working in accessibility can mean we get in the mindset of expecting absolute perfection when supporting accessible digital project development.

Headings might be incorrectly rendered on a page. And to us, this becomes unforgivable and a further slight on those users with disabilities who need that support the most.

We become blinkered and unflinching in demanding absolute accessibility perfection from any digital project.

Regardless of the technical challenges or knowledge gaps from the colleagues, we work with. This attitude becomes untenable and alienates us from the goal of improving digital accessibility.

Reinforcing the perspective that accessibility is hard.

Moving forward by doing a little bit more

Working to our best abilities and doing a little more than yesterday means progress IS being made. The forward direction is better than striving for the absolute best and not making any progress at all.

We sometimes make recommendations that are not taken on board. Or emphasise the challenges of progressing with a flawed UI design pattern that is ignored.

The mantra "We do what we do" underlines that we can only control the things which we do. Sometimes things don’t go the way we want, there are things outside of our control that we can't influence and that’s ok.

We do what we do, we work collaboratively and accept sometimes that decisions go against us.

Sarah Edelman in her book "Change your thinking" sums up this desire for perfection and the negative consequences best.

"While having high standards can have its benefits, the belief that things must be done perfectly is anxiety-producing, because of the ongoing possibility that we will not live up to our expectations. Perfectionist attitudes often cause procrastination, as the fear of falling short makes it hard to get started. It also makes us inefficient, as our inability to say 'That's good enough' causes us to spend too much time on tasks that don't warrant it"

Change your thinking – Sarah Edelman Phd

Good enough, is good enough

For accessibility do a little bit more than yesterday, do it well, and "we do what we do". If you find yourself not making progress re-evaluate your expectations.

You may just be aiming for an unattainable goal of perfection when in reality good enough is just that, good enough.

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