There’s nothing perfect about being a perfectionist. You waste time on relatively unimportant decisions, you get excessively annoyed with yourself over small mistakes, which drains you, and, because you expect others to conform to your standards, you sometimes make collaboration more difficult. But that doesn’t mean perfections are all bad.
Part of what lures people into its grasp is that it sometimes pays off as a slot machine does. It’s intermittently reinforced, and that pattern tends to be very sticky. It’s also why perfectionists resist when told they need to change.
The idea that perfectionism is a negative quality they should drop isn’t consistent with their experience. If perfectionists instead recognize both the up and downsides, they are more likely to see a path forward in which they can turn that quality up or down depending on the situation. With that said, one largely unrecognized benefit of perfectionism is that it can enhance creativity. Here’s how—according to former clinical psychologist Alice Boyes.
You’re bothered by evidence running counter to your own (or the consensus) opinion: Perfectionists find it harder to ignore “the emperor has no clothes” situations in which the herd has settled on a way of thinking but there are flaws in that consensus. Their tendency to ruminate and inability to block out intrusions can be helpful in challenging the status quo.
Your desire to understand everything pushes you to acquire more information: Curiosity is strongly linked to creativity. Curious people are more motivated by the possibility of acquiring new knowledge than they are by the prospect of solving specific problems. Many perfectionists also tend to want to understand everything, even if it’s only very loosely related to the task at hand. Following these tangents can lead to a much more diverse set of ideas and information than a more narrowly focused approach.
Your stubbornness leads to an innovative solution: Perfectionists don’t like making tradeoffs or settling for reasonably good solutions. They want a plan that ticks all their boxes and they will work to achieve that, including coming up with their own out-of-the-box alternatives.
Your competitiveness makes you scrappy, hustling to keep up with peers: When a perfectionist sees a colleague racking up achievements they’re not, it tends to bug them. They think “I should be doing that, too.” This instant competitive instinct pushes the perfectionist to not only try to match their colleague’s achievement but do so as soon as possible.