The Limits of “Peak Performance” and the Benefits of “Authentic, Spontaneous Imperfection”

The Industrial Revolution with its metaphor of the machine as guiding principle (“Leitbild”) for human production and organisation brought upon us the idea of “peak performance.” Within this worldview sits the assumption that the universe follows mechanical, repeatable laws (Newton’s “Mechanical Universe”). Therefore, productive processes in essence are also predictable, which in turn creates the context for the concept of “efficiency” to emerge. Why? Because in a mechanical universe, there is a clear, predictable order to things and hence a clear predictable path to production (creation). The challenge is to identify the key variables of a productive process and then eliminate all of the “disturbances” or “non-critical variables” from the process – this is the concept of “efficiency.”

This concept of efficiency is one of the great conceptual achievements of the Mechanical Age. What is more, it has made possible another great conceptual achievement of the same Age: “Peak Performance.”

“Peak Performance” describes a performance or process that is at the “peak” of its efficiency, in other words it is “perfect” in the sense of being “flawless” (all disturbances, non-critical variables, and other “inefficiencies” have been eliminated from the performance…what is left is pure performance, “peak performance”).

To describe peak performance in an image, picture the first violin of a world-renowned orchestra – the precision, discipline, perfection, perfect execution…or imagine the successful corporate worker archetype of the 90s – perfect suit, perfect eloquence, perfect presence, perfect business cards (the near impossible striving towards which was beautifully caricatured in the movie “American Psycho”).

No matter which image you choose, what you will find is that peak performance is closely related to a disciplined, discerning, analytical, repetitive and consequent approach to achieving it. One could argue that such a no-nonsense, totally dedicated approach to creation (production) is the only approach that can yield true “peak performance.”

However, while “peak performance” has produced some of the most notable achievements of human history, there are limitations to approaching creation through this concept exclusively:

As peak performance is dependent, at least conceptually, on will (intention imposed onto matter), control (managing the mechanical laws towards delivering our desired output) and judgement (“is this part of the critical function or not?”), it limits the possibility of spontaneous, surprising, wild emergences that stretch beyond the “will-able” or “imaginable” in the creative process.

In other words, chasing peak performance narrows the window of discovery in regard to goal (“What’s the peak I’m aiming for?”, process (“how do I best get there?”), and evaluation (“What’s good/perfect?”).

While business has completely swallowed the peak performance pill and has been chasing it within and without its organisations, you only have to turn to the creative fields to experience the possibilities within creation, creative processes, and creative output that are achievable when we let go of the concepts of “efficiency” and “flawlessness” in the pursuit of “peak performance.” (see this video, for example, which is far from a “perfect” recording or performance in the technical sense)

Allowing the “flaws” to be explored as spontaneous occurrences of a self-discovering intelligence that is of us but not controlled by us (i.e. the “Wildness” within us and the Universe as such) rather than immediately labelling them as divergences from the intended path of perfection, can give rise to a creative process and creative output that can be inspiring as much as they are inspired. This can, in turn, reveal to the willing artist a creative genius and output that would have otherwise remained unimaginable and hence unobtainable to her. The artist becomes the observer of her emergent art in equal measure as she is the creator of it. (check out this beautiful mini-documentary on creation and observation)

What is more in this, the consequential weakening of the predictability of “peak performances”, while less pleasing to the demands of the conceptual mind, creates room for genuine surprise and discovery of possibilities previously unknown to both, the creator and the observer, which is much more pleasing to the curious human spirit.

As such, allowing “authentic, spontaneous imperfection” into one’s creative process and acknowledging it as the potential source of innovative (i.e. “something new to the old”), unexpected (i.e. “beyond my own will and expectation”), even transpersonally informed (“Cosmic intelligence” / higher order) creative genius and output renders a performance not only potentially more human and more evolutionary relevant, but also more in tune with the wild wickedness of Life itself.

So in a nutshell:
In any creative process, strive to be the best you can be, yes, but also allow yourself to be the whole you in it always. The more you make room in your seeking of willed perfection within and without, the more you may discover Life at its wildest, most intriguing, most alive in your creations and within yourself.

The true meaning of “Inspiration.”


  1. It’s crucial to let the inspiration guide us – I hope the students will get this lesson fully and I hope the business context of the future will let them apply it. It takes time to get into the flow, but it’s a process ‘designed’ by nature in order to deliver something meaningful and lasting. Project Management should always include ‘time for thinking and creating, time for experimenting and innovating’. Instead, it rarely does include time for even reading the briefs properly… What the client wants is ‘results’, tomorrow if not yesterday. In the competitive corporate world, or challenging start-up world, or even in the cooperative no-profit world, we are requested to act ‘in real time’. What for? With what consequences? It’s for all to see…

  2. Reminds me of the Wabi-sabi in japanese art and its inherent importance of imperfection. Looking mightily forward working with you Habib. Cheers!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *