On the Pursuit of Perfection

Yesterday evening I watched a film called ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’. It’s a documentary film about a Japanese man named Jiro Ono, who is celebrated as one of the most talented sushi chefs in the world. For those who might doubt this distinction, his restaurant has earned three Michelin stars, requires reservations months in advance and for about fifteen to twenty morsels over as many minutes, you’d pay almost $400 for the experience.

Gorgeous photography and score aside, as I watched the movie I was reminded of the lessons learned when I lived in Japan. As a young and ambitious expatriate, time was my enemy when solving problems or making things happen. I was usually impatient, but for good reason. Both of the times I lived there, I was sent there to perform and produce.

However as I got to know my Japanese colleagues and studied more about the art and design of Japan, I realized that their culture appreciates not only the result, but the process as well. Learning an artisan skill can take decades, even a lifetime and that timeframe was not only OK, but expected. There was no rush, no sense of loss if time came to pass as long as the skill improved and you moved closer to perfection. In fact the pursuit of perfection was to some degree, more important than actually achieving it, if it could ever be achieved at all.

In today’s fast paced world of fleeting attention spans, almost no one has the time, focus or energy to pursue perfection, even for most Japanese. It is the unfortunate result of our sound bite society where ideas are distilled down 140 characters or less; when our fascination with celebrities and pop culture trumps our desire for value and longevity.

However, in the world of art and design there are still the few who pursue their craft with passion and dedication. But with mass production and worldwide availability diluting design, they’re fewer and farther between. When we do encounter them, we should celebrate them and remind ourselves the value in pursuing perfection even if we ourselves might choose not to.

I know for myself, the world offers too many fascinating diversions for me to settle on one singular pursuit. As a result, I continue to try a variety of careers and crafts. For each one, I try to master it as best I can and when I feel satisfied that I’ve done well, I move on to the next. Design and photography though, have been the two enduring passions for which I continue to pursue a semblance of perfection. Perhaps in the end though, the true pursuit of perfection is all about creating something beautiful.  

From a different perspective to describe geniuses like Jiro…

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”  Arthur Schopenhauer

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One Response to On the Pursuit of Perfection

  1. jose says:

    Wonderful post! I have a lot to learn from Jiro.

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