Sunday, 18 December 2011

Competing for perfection

It is human nature to compete. I also like to compete but in
competitions, someone is bound to lose. It is painful to see your
acquaintances lose. It is also painful for us to lose. Now I realise
that I console myself in my losses by not competing with my opponents
but rather with perfection, the imagined opponent. I use my human
opponents as a sparring partner.

It may be a lousy excuse for losing but it certainly reduces stresses
somehow. However, when you compete, the stress of competition is what
you are looking for. The high of winning is something that we enjoy,
but there are bound to be lows when we lose. I think I use perfection
as a good scapegoat and excuse.

I used not to believe so much in talent, believing that hard work will
overcome all. Now I no longer believe this. Hard work alone will not
make anyone excellent. There must be talent supported by interest. You
may have the talent, but without any interest in exploiting the
talent, the talent will be wasted.

One of my obvious talent was in studying. I had been the top of my
class since primary 2. In my secondary school at Sung Siew Secondary
School, Sandakan, I was even consistently the top of the school
because our marks are compared across the whole school. Contrary to
what other students say, I do not consider myself as a hard working
student. I see other students who work much harder and yet fail. It
could be due to their lack of talent. My techniques of competing for
perfection as a helper.

It may appear that working for perfection means that you have to work
harder but I don't feel the pressure. In order to achieve 100%, you
should work for more than 100%. Even if you fail, you still get close
to 100%. You may think that it is impossible to achieve more than 100%
but in school, it is possible because each examination is constrained
by a syllabus. What you have to do is to study for more than 100% by
covering a wider syllabus using different text books or books. If you
rely on just one textbook, then your options will be limited.
Examination questions may come from other books or sources.

I notice that students who work hard and fail, tend to concentrate on
working on the same source of information. Spending a lot of time
doing the same thing over and over again, hoping to memorise the
information. I don't think it will work. It is like aiming for 100%
coverage. The chance of failure to achieve 100% is much higher, than
if you aim for 200% coverage in different topics and points of view.

I used to employ this technique for Telekom Malaysia projects.
Unfortunately it was deemed as illegal. They stick to 100% target, and
always failing to reach 100%, because perfection is actually
impossible. If you aim and prepare for 200%, your chance of achieving
100% of the target will be very high. Failure to achieve 100% of the
target may be disastrous for the company, and yet, they keep on making
the same mistakes. Working very hard to reduce these mistakes, in
order to achieve a higher performance. The aim may be noble, but the
cost in terms of human resource will be high and worse, no matter how
hard you work, you will never achieve perfection. Do we lose more than
what we hope to achieve by bending the rules?

It is just like buying 2 cars instead of 1. The cost may be high, but
the chance of failure is extremely low. The cost may appear to be
high, but these cars belong to you. Where is the loss if both cars
still belong to you? Some planners will consider it as a waste because
they believe that they can still achieve zero downtime with just one
car if only we look after the car well enough. This is despite facts
pointing out that failures of this technique. Cars need to be sent for
repair, may involve in accidents etc. They would rather ask people to
reduce maintenance time rather than invest in more cars. the bottom
line is that, they are not willing to aim for perfection despite all
their promises.

If you really want something, you will try all means. Otherwise,
you'll give all sorts of excuses. The rewards of failures to
attempting the impossible perfection can be satisfying. We may fail to
be the best in Malaysia, but Sung Siew was the best in Sabah in 1974,
the first time that the school was top ranked. My classmates also got
high ranking because we help each other instead of destroy each other.
And that was not the first time it happened. It happened in my primary
school. Prior to my time, the highest state wide score was 63%. In my
time, the 63% was achieved by the 10th student. The highest was 88%.
The presence of that 88% student managed to encourage the others to
achieve higher.

You can argue that it was just coincidental that there was a bunch of
good students that year. It just does not make sense because the
previous years, the same batch of students from a small community
sharing the same livelihood, i.e. inside the police barracks, can
suddenly produce brilliant students in that particular year. The only
sensible explanation was that there was a sudden urge for students to
maximise their talent for studying.

I don't recall cooperating with my classmates, but my willingness to
ask lots of questions could be one factor why my classmates also
improve. During the secondary school, I discuss with a few close
friends, which became among the top students. He wasn't such a good
student before I met him. These friends are mostly chinese.

A few years before, I was doing my bridge class at Kudat town. My
father wanted to send me to a missionary school but I ended up in a
class with almost all chinese except I and another native. We became
close friends. He wasn't such a good student, but I was the top of the
class defeating all the chinese. Natives are not well known for
beating chinese students in studies, but my example probably inspired
him to improve himself. He wanted to become a doctor and he actually
achieved in. I heard, he was the top student in the school when I left
for Sandakan.

He certainly has the vision. My other even closer friends are not so
ambitious but they are aware of my achievements from a distance. By
making myself as an example who can achieve the seemingly impossible
perfection, many students have risen much higher than their normal
self, fulfilling their potentials. I didn't brag about my school
results probably because of the need for humility. It is probably a
mistake. I didn't do it because in a working environment, it is not
important to be such a good student and I thought people already know
from my CVs and the broadcast announcements.

I realise that it may be a mistake. One colleague who had worked for
me for years and nearing retirement, suddenly became brave and pointed
out that I was proud because I was the best student in my school. I
never bragged about it, but I was not just the best in school but the
whole State of Sabah. When I left TM, I started telling my other close
colleagues about my prowess as as student. Nothing for me to gain any
more so I won't be accused of snobbery.

How about success in real life. Just because you are successful in
school does not mean that you'll be successful in the working
environment. Others may have the talent for being successful in their
careers but it should not stop them from aiming for perfection.
Unfortunately, I don't have the vision to achieve higher because I am
not prepared to make the sacrifices to achieve it. Maybe my pursuit of
perfection has failed me.

I may have failed but others should try to achieve perfection as well.
Many will fail, as shown by my example, but a few is bound to succeed.
If nobody tries to be perfect, we will never be progressive enough. At
least people don't destroy each other. They all seek the perfection
competitor instead of their colleagues.

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