Being Imperfect in Public

Reading Time: 4 minutes

When I launched my Twitter course Find your Following earlier this week, I realized that my launch Tweet had a typo less than a minute after posting it.

For a supposedly pristine piece of marketing that highlights my professional approach to using Twitter, that wouldn’t really work.

But it did. Before I had the opportunity to delete the Tweet, I noticed my first sale. And since I had already added more Tweets to turn it into my launch thread, I chose to embrace this imperfection and roll with it.

It turns out that nobody cares. Within the first 24 hours, the course sold almost $5000’s worth. Nobody talked about the typo. Everyone enjoyed my marketing video, and they responded to the value of the educational content I presented them with — not the flaws I saw in it.

This is a lesson I have encountered repeatedly: everything works out better when I’m embracing my mistakes, owning them in public, and reframing them as something I’m conscious of but strong enough to ignore.

There is no value in perfection when things work out just as well without it. The opposite is the case: an hour spent seeking to write that perfect paragraph or creating that perfect visual in private is an hour lost interacting with an eager audience in public.

I have learned that this takes some getting used to, so I am trying to lead by example. It’s why I didn’t delete and re-do my tweet. It’s why I force myself to share my work-in-progress marketing materials before I think they’re ready.

Ever since we were in school, we’ve been taught to present polished work. Drafts were discouraged. That was for us to figure out in isolation.

Well, no longer. People understand that great results come out of iterating on not-yet-so-great versions. And they want to see all of it, not just the final product.

Leaning into this allows us to benefit in two ways: our audience feels more involved in the process — some kind of IKEA effect — and we quickly learn that what we were obsessing over so much often matters less than we thought.

We create meaning when we align our internal values with the expectations of others. Usually, that means helping someone accomplish their goals. And that is rarely done by optimizing the whitespace around a logo or re-ordering the menu items on a website.

When we refocus on serving and empowering others, we stop missing the forest for the trees and start seeing the most critical problems of the people we want to help. They don’t expect perfection. They hope to be seen and paid attention to.

I’m not saying that you should get sloppy. But I want to caution you against trying to make things perfect. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and consider that anything is better than having to deal with a problem all by yourself. So what if your product has a user interface built with default components: if it solves their problem, it’s good enough.

And sure, eventually, people will expect an overall high-quality product. The final polish is a natural expectation for any product, but —and it says so right there in the name— it’s the final stage. And when it comes to most digital products, there rarely is a final stage. Most Software-as-a-Service products are never truly finished, as they need to adjust to market movements and integration needs all the time. Most digital info products —eBooks, courses, and the like— are consistently revised and updated.

There rarely is a point in obsessing over the details of our prototypes.

So why do we treat our in-between stages as if they were fully-featured products?

I can only attribute this to our selective vision of the work of others: we see only their final work while we are constantly exposed to all the ups and downs of our own journeys. We see the accomplishments of others in black and white while our own work is glaring us into the face in oversaturated colors.

The antidote is building in public and following the journeys of those who do the same.

When I was writing for my course, I looked at other course creators and saw them working on different stages of their to-be-created products. I saw them obsessing over details, re-recording videos they didn’t like, and pushing themselves to hit deadlines they set for themselves. I saw that other creators were just as confused and stressed as I was.

And it was liberating.

I saw creators work on maintaining their own voice. I saw them create and adhere to their style — and that allowed me to find a voice and a style for myself.

Once I had found that, I dismissed anything else and got to work. I wanted to create not the best Twitter course but the one that reflected my approach the best. I didn’t want to create cinema-like video content but an instructional narrative that allowed me to impress on my students how important it is to make a personal connection.

I thought about MY course from THEIR perspective.

It was so much easier to focus on the core principles of what I had to offer after going through that mindset shift. I stopped considering what I wanted to teach —seeing myself as some kind of erudite professor— and focused on what my students would like to learn. I made a list of learning outcomes and started bridging them to what I knew most about.

The resulting course seems to resonate well with my audience. And that makes it successful — despite all the minor imperfections. I even made a hilarious mistake, confusing Derek Sivers with Simon Sinek as the author of Start With Why, a book that I have read and that was sitting right next to me while I was mixing up the author. And still, people love —and bought— the course for all the other things that it gets right.

I’m telling you this because I know that right now, there is something you’re working on that could already be in the hand of those who need it most.

So put it out there.

It may not be perfect, but it’ll be just fine for your audience.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.