Progress, Not Perfection

Rob Thomas
3 min readSep 16, 2019

There is no continuum in success. It’s an ongoing process. -Nick Saban

When he was 7 years old, Yo-Yo Ma performed for two US presidents. As he is now turning 60, with 18 Grammy Awards, he practices not because he has to, but because of a continual strive for perfection. In a recent interview, Ma says, “Mark Salzman wrote this wonderful book about a cellist (The Soloist) seeking perfection. Of course you cannot achieve perfection and you kind of get paralyzed, so you have to find equilibrium between the possible- what’s realistic and what is ideal.”

Ma enjoys practicing more and more, as it becomes an opportunity to fine tune his skills. He talks about the process of practice as ‘going toward something bigger than the notes and yourself’. In time, his pursuit for perfection has become more about developing new skills, than any specific goal. Said another way, his effort is about progress, not perfection.

It’s human nature to be average and accept the status quo. It is much harder to push yourself to be better every day. But, pushing yourself without a clear goal or focus areas of skill, just creates anxiety.

In the book AstroBall, Ben Reiter talks about how the Houston Astros baseball team turned qualitative scouting reports of baseball players, into quantitative scores. This turned opinion into data, which was helpful, because data is something that can be acted on.

I have been thinking about this in the context of the business world. Many people that I talk to, express a desire to grow in their careers and improve their skills. But, I realized that there is no quantitative way to measure the skills of an executive (it’s somewhat easier to measure the impact of a software engineer or sales executive). Taking a page from the Houston Astros, I wondered if I could create a framework that would enable executives to assess their skills, turning opinion into data. Here are the attributes that I developed:

For each of the 10 categories, I recommend that you rate yourself on a scale of 1–10. I’ve defined what 1, 5, and 10 mean below, but you can score anywhere in between 1–10.

  • 1- Have not demonstrated
  • 5- Have demonstrated some, but need more practice.
  • 10- Consistently demonstrate. A mentor to others.

I don’t know anyone who scores 100. Depending on your objectives, a score of 70–90 seems to be a reasonable goal. There are 2 ways to get there: a) be a 7–9 in every category or b) be a 10 in a few categories and a 5 in others. Either approach is acceptable. After all, this is about progress, not perfection.



Rob Thomas

Author of ‘The AI Ladder’, ‘The End of Tech Companies’ & ‘Big Data Revolution’