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Don't let potential hold you back

Do you like Ranch dressing?

Megan Preston Meyer
Megan Preston Meyer

This is it. This is the one. This is going to change the world.

We’ve all said stuff like this. We’ve all had that one great idea that, unlike all the other great ideas before it, was going to be earth-shattering. How could no one have thought of it before? How could it still be undone? How could it be this easy?

So we start.

We begin the book, we draft the business plan, we create the first podcast script, or we buy the domain name. We are doing our civic duty, nay, our human duty, by bringing our idea into the world. It’s going to be life-changing, for us and for others.

Then we give up.

Why? Not because we discover, after a few weeks of deep-dive, that the idea doesn’t hold water – just the opposite. We uncover the full depth of potential… and realize that we’re not going to be able to do it justice.

So, nobly, we stop. We figure that if we can’t bring the entire golden, gleaming, whole to fruition, it’s better not to try.

But that’s the wrong way to look at things, and Ranch dressing is the proof.

Do you like Ranch dressing? The answer is yes. But you only know that because a Fortune 500 consumer and professional products company got over their perfectionism.

Clorox bought the rights to Hidden Valley Ranch in 1972; their goal was to mass-market it as shelf-stable. The original recipe called for buttermilk and mayonnaise, which made it ethereal, but not eternal, so they put the best minds of their generation to work recreating the taste in a squeeze bottle that would last 16 months in your pantry.

They couldn’t do it.

No matter what they tried, they couldn’t match the glorious, creamy, ephemeral sensation of Hidden Valley Ranch as its creator intended it. They tried for more than 10 years, never getting anywhere near the perfection they were comparing themselves to.

But they launched it anyway. And everyone loved it.

Everyone loved it for what it was, not for what it could have been.

Except for a few Clorox Taste Testers1, no one knew what Hidden Valley Ranch was supposed to taste like. Consumers had no idea of its potential, so they weren’t upset that it wasn’t living up to it. Everyone loved it for what it was, not for what it could have been.

Doesn’t it stand to reason, then, that everyone will love your thing, even if it isn’t perfect?

Realistically, whatever you’re doing, it’s probably not going to live up to all of the potential that you see for it. Don’t get me wrong – it’s going to be awesome – but it’s not going to be perfect.

That’s okay. No one knows what perfection even looks like. Stop trying to achieve the unachievable and just achieve something. You may find out that people love it, and if not, there’s always the next thing.

1 #4 on OSHA’s Top Ten Most Dangerous Jobs list

Source: Clorox story from Samson Hsia as told by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker as told by Nicholas Epley in Mindwise

Mandatory Motivation