Over the past 2 years, Nikon’s previously strong market-share has been in steady decline and that downward trend is likely to continue. From a solid 2nd position, they’ve slipped to occupy the number 3 spot. Not that the smaller players in 4th place and below are any threat, but the gap between Nikon and the number 1 and 2 players (Canon and Sony respectively) is widening. Soon, their third place will become a lonely island, neither threatened from below nor threatening those above. Now in early 2021, they’re facing losses of over $700 Million dollars.
In the coming months and years, Nikon’s story will surely become a case study with many scholarly articles dissecting what happened. As an early entry in the genre, in this Blog article I’ll explore the status quo, its relationship with innovation and the detrimental impact perfectionism has for organisations of all sizes.
A Recent Example
Those of you that know me well can confirm my enthusiasm for photography. Especially, landscape photography. As a result, I’m an avid follower of industry developments and that’s what prompts me to write about Nikon.
Interestingly, Nikon is anticipating a $720M loss after a “delayed” transition to mirrorless cameras. That contrasts with $65M profit just a year earlier. In comparison, Canon is expecting to post a $616M profit by March of this year (2021).
Throughout the last couple of years, there has been a massive forward momentum by camera manufacturers adopting mirrorless technology and enhancing the video capabilities of their cameras. Sony, Canon, Fuji and even Olympus are all working tirelessly towards the transition with many advanced cameras already brought to market. In fairness, Nikon does have the Z range in the mirrorless market, but further developments are compromised by R&D deficiencies.
This is evidenced by the CEO of Nikon, Hirotaka Ikegami, whom himself stated that
“Nikon’s poor showing can be directly tied to its slow transition to mirrorless. While Sony has experienced nothing but huge growth, Nikon was too late to the game.”
Sony and Canon are leading the way, and while they’ve had to overcome some challenges, the quality and experience each delivers has been impressive, overall.
Yet, interestingly, Ikegami went on to say,
“I was most concerned about how much the performance of the electronic viewfinder (EVF) can be improved, and the number of shots can be increased.”
For me, it’s this comment that is most telling. Nikon has allowed itself to become bogged down in the details and perfectionism.
What Perfectionism Means For Us Personally
Perhaps there is a helpful lesson in there for all of us to remember – that when you focus on being perfect, you stop creating. Paralysed to the point where nothing happens, this is a real problem when it comes to innovation.
Innovation needs momentum to push forward and overcome the status quo. The internet is littered with people who were working on that amazing project, or that killer feature, or that solution to world hunger. It never got finished. The only thing that will get you over the hurdle of perfection is practice: finishing things and putting them out in the world.
Perfectionism destroys creativity, and while this may sound like mumbo jumbo, the fact is that you need creativity to innovate. In innovation, we dream, test, fail, improve, test again, and fail again. A continuous cycle fundamentally important to forward momentum.
Perfectionism is the textbook tool for stifling all creativity, causing us and our organisations to become stuck in time.
I’m not talking about a type of standard quality curve. The one where you don’t create anything because it isn’t going to be 100% perfect. That gets no one anywhere. Innovation comes from imperfection. Creativity cannot thrive without some flaws. I’m referring to the evolutionary curve, where everything gets better over time and less-than-perfect ideas become closer to perfect with each iteration, each new discovery.
Though I’ve been leading organisations, creating content and developing technology solutions for a long time, it wasn’t until I read Seth Godin’s book ‘The Dip’ when realisation dawned that I’d regularly made the mistake of waiting until everything was ready. ‘The Dip’ taught me that, to be creative and innovative, we need to follow our intuition and move forward in the direction of progress, even if things are half-done or imperfect.
What This Means For Organisations
Perfectionism is not good for us as individuals with many scholarly articles describing its potentially harmful effect on our health. Certainly, it is also disastrous for organisations. Especially in this fast digital age we inhabit.
Apple co-founder, the late Steve Jobs, highlights this very problem — and how to work around it — in his 2005 Stanford Commencement speech. Although he was speaking to graduating students, we can all take away a valuable lesson from Jobs’ speech. Like many of us, he struggled with his mind’s destructive tendency to focus on all the things that were wrong with an idea, product or project – often termed ‘analysis paralysis’ for its corrosive effect on forward momentum.
At the end of 2018, Harvard Business Review released a short and succinct article on the subject: The Pros and Cons of Perfectionism, According to Research. If you have time, it’s worth a read, with plenty of helpful research and evidence. Their summary wraps things up nicely:
Taking measures to better manage perfectionists will become a bigger managerial priority. One study of nearly 42,000 young people around the world found that perfectionism has risen over the last 27 years. Striving to be perfect is not overly beneficial for employees and has significant costs for employees and organizations. Instead of encouraging employees to be ’perfect’, we might be better off with going for ‘good enough’.”
If 2020 taught organisations anything, it must surely be that moving forward, in the general direction of right, is ‘good enough’. And that’s really what it’s all about. In such a fast-paced world, having every bit of information or waiting for perfection, brings a high risk of us being left behind.
The currency of today is being right in a direction, collaborating as a team, and moving the collective forward.
While we should always weigh decisions with experience and advice, evolution comes from accepting some element of risk. Waiting for all the information to the last detail, or everything to be perfect, will result in things not being done, or being done too late.
Undoubtedly, the relentless pursuit of perfection also creates a destructive culture of fear. People dread being wrong and getting in trouble because of it. That concern contributes to a working environment becoming a tense, un-productive and inflexible place.
Returning to photography, I’m endlessly fascinated by the two ends of a single spectrum. On one end, you have the Science – the glass, the lenses, terms like chromatic aberration, coma, spherical aberration, advancements in the chips, diffraction etc. Whereas the other end of the same spectrum is home to the creatives – those people who capture the image, the digital artists, designers and other visually inspired individuals.
The relationship of Science to Art in photography really embodies the correlation of perfectionism and innovation in a single entity.
It is a union based on Science and Art. In the case of Nikon, however, their science of perfectionism has restricted their art and forward momentum. And the results have been disastrous.
In the words of Robert Fulton –
“When you focus on being perfect, you stop creating. You are paralysed to the point where nothing happens.”
The challenge is that we must build, and we must release, without awaiting perfection. The act of releasing is the definition of doing. You will learn more about your respective product/service, and your brain, in one month of building, than you could ever learn reading the best blogs or the theoretical principles of the relevant area over the course of a year.
Redefining perfection means reducing your focus on minor details and performance measurements, and instead, focusing on doing what is important at the time.
Less focus on perfection means fewer ‘amazing’ and more forward momentum. It is a mindset. You must be okay with the idea that people will see you for who you are, for what you are working at, and not for how everything you touch is perfect. Don’t get caught up in pithy, unhelpful terms such as striving for excellence. They may sound great in a mission statement but are largely useless in the real-world. Such striving inhibits performance through over-thinking, over-delivering and compulsive behaviours.
Instead, show us – show the world – what you have made, no matter if it is complete or not. Just get it out there and let others decide if it’s good enough. And if it’s not, that’s fine.
No one’s perfect, after all – not even Mary Poppins.