Last weekend I took part in a race to the summit of the Jungfrau, one of the highest mountains in the Swiss Alps. In the weeks before I had to field numerous questions such as how my training was going, what sort of equipment would I be using and would I be attempting Everest next?
Of course most people who know me would have immediately spotted the flaw in all of this. I have enough problems climbing a ladder let alone a mountain. The race was actually organised by Skywork Airlines and the British Swiss Chamber of Commerce to publicise Skywork’s new daily service between London City Airport and the Swiss capital, Berne. Reaching the top was achieved by using public transport, the Jungfraujoch station being the highest railway station in Europe. Simple when you know how.
But it is easy to see how people could gain the impression that I was seasoned adventurer just from the words “race” and “summit” and just as easy to understand why I might have been tempted not to disabuse people of the notion. We all like to create an impression of being something that we are not quite.
I am often reminded of this desire when I speak with entrepreneurs and small business owners. When preparing business plans, marketing copy and websites, there is a tendency to overegg the product or service, creating the impression of a bigger organisation than actually exists.
The problem with this approach is often that it creates a risk of over promising and under delivering, a cardinal sin for anybody trying to make the right impression with a new customer. It is the business equivalent of “slightly embellishing” career achievements on a CV.
Of course a lot of this is driven by the perceived need to be perfect and the fear that we won’t measure up to somebody’s ideal. In a world of multiple ‘A’ stars anything less is seen as unacceptable. The world now demands perfection more and more, even though it is seldom, if ever, possible to achieve it. The reality that most things are imperfect and none the worse for it is hard to sell.
I must emphasise that this is not about accepting second best. We all have a responsibility to our customers and our clients to be as good as we can possibly be. It is about realising that it is only through being honest with ourselves and understanding what we are not that we can really start to work on what we would like to be. As those 80s whimsical pop rockers China Crisis might have said perhaps it is time to “flaunt the imperfection”.
I am more than happy to admit that I never have been and am highly unlikely to be a mountaineer. Having said that I am of course open to future invitations to race to the summit of Everest. They’ll have to ensure there is a train to take me to the top though……