Making Design Circular Podcast – Season 4 – In Conversation with Tom Curran
Welcome to season four of Making Design Circular with Katie Treggiden, in which we’re exploring what it takes to cultivate a creative practice in which you, your business and the planet ALL get to thrive. We’ll be diving deep into the nuances, complexities and mindset shifts that we need to embrace to bring about a just transition to a more circular economy.
In this episode, Katie talks to Tom Curran, a World Leading Expert on Perfectionism. With an eye on politics, economics, and society, he takes a cultural lens to the study of perfectionism. His work is groundbreaking and has uncovered a frightening trend of young people breaking under the strain of perfectionistic pressures. Tom brings perfectionism to life and makes it relevant and understandable to the widest audiences. He is a TED speaker and Thought Leader, a regular contributor to high-profile podcasts and has been featured in the national and international mainstream media. With the objective to put perfectionism on the map as a public health concern, Curran draws on his unique sense of wit and self-depreciation when he travels the globe speaking on the topic.
During this episode, Katie and Tom discuss:
- How he came into the field of social and personality psychology and what that actually is
- His findings from first systems-level cohort study to show that perfectionism is on the rise in American, Canadian and British college students
- The damaging impacts f perfectionism
- The difference between perfectionism and the pursuit of excellence
- How to navigate perfectionism
- How we can tap into failure as a strength
- How can craftspeople, makers, artists and designers contribute to a culture of imperfect progress
You can connect with Tom here
Here are some highlights:
Seeking approval and validation
“Perfectionists are really concerned about how other people appraise them, whether they’re valued and approved and loved by other people. This is a huge part of perfectionistic psychology, because deep down, they believe that they’re flawed, they’re imperfect, that they’re deficient. And in order to feel a sense of self worth, they go about the world trying to hide those deficiencies from other people and seeking their approval and validation all times. Well, that’s okay, but what tends to happen is that perfectionistic people are so scared of rejection, so scared of criticism that they can move themselves away from people and away from situations where they feel like they might be judged. That can create some social disconnection which can lead into things like loneliness and there’s a lot of data to suggest that perfectionistic people experience quite a lot of loneliness and social disconnection. That’s the first reason why it has an impact on mental health”
Pushing past human fallibilities
“Perfectionism has quite an aggressive, aggravated vulnerability built into it, and perfectionist people push themselves to the max and then some, it’s this idea of, well, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, I’ve got to keep pushing through the pain, I’ve got to keep grinding, I’ve got to keep going, I’ve got to keep my head up and keep moving forward, and that that’s an unsustainable way to live. You just don’t let yourself rest. You just don’t let yourself recuperate. You don’t give yourself permission to accept that life sometimes defeats us and that’s okay, that’s a part of parcel of being human being. Perfectionism is really pushing past those very human fallibilities and vulnerabilities to try and project all times perfect persona. But of course, that’s not, that’s not possible and left untreated, left unchecked, that can be quite, quite different.
Exposing ourselves to failure
“You just got to get comfortable with it. You know, failure is such an intimately, human experience. Look, we’re going to fail way, way more than we’re going to succeed. That’s the first thing to remember. We’re fallible, we’re exhaustible creatures. I think it’s such an important way to go through life acknowledging that failures of this beautiful thing that we shouldn’t be afraid of, it’s very humanizing. The more we put ourselves out there and the more we can expose ourselves to failure, the more comfortable we get with it. Like taking a sledgehammer to perfectionism. Just putting yourself out there and feeling the fear of doing it anyway.”
Books, Podcasts and articles we mentioned:
The Perfection Trap by Thom Curran
Our Dangerous Obsession with Perfectionism is Getting Worse, Ted Talk with Thom Curran
The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth
Listen, Liberal by Thomas Frank
Chatabix with comedians Joe Wilkinson and David Earl
Resources for Mental Health Support
Whatever you’re going through, a Samaritan will face it with you. We’re here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Visit https://www.samaritans.org/ or call 116 123 for free.
Mind provide supportive and reliable information to empower you to understand your mental health and the choices available to you – take a look at https://www.mind.org.uk/
Broken: Mending and repair in a throwaway world: Katie’s sixth book celebrates 25 artists, curators, menders and re-makers who have rejected the allure of the fast, disposable and easy in favour of the patina of use, the stories of age and the longevity of care and repair. Accompanying these profiles, six in-depth essays explore the societal, cultural and environmental roles of mending in a throwaway world.
Cultivating Hope, 3 part mini course: Are you ready to cultivate hope in the face of the climate crisis? Sign up to Katie’s three-part free mini course that will help you move through feelings of helplessness, reconnect with nature and take aligned action.
Making Design Circular membership: An international membership community and online learning platform for environmentally conscious designers, makers artists and craftspeople – join us!
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Katie Treggiden is the founder and director of Making Design Circular – an international membership community and online learning platform for environmentally conscious designers, makers artists and craftspeople. She is also an author, journalist and podcaster championing a hopeful approach to environmentalism. With more than 20 years’ experience in the creative industries, she regularly contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, Crafts Magazine and Dezeen. She is currently exploring the question ‘Can craft save the world?’ through her sixth book, Broken: Mending & Repair in a Throwaway World (Ludion, 2023), this very podcast.
Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.
Welcome to season four of Making Design Circular with Katie Treggiden, in which we’re exploring what it takes to cultivate a creative practice in which you, your business and the planet ALL get to thrive. We’ll be diving deep into the nuances, complexities and mindset shifts that we need to embrace to bring about a just transition to a more circular economy.
From a young age, I would always describe myself as a bit of an anxious kid. And always found very high, pressurised situations quite challenging. And as I got older, I kind of turned that anxiety into unrelenting standards for myself, which led to some quite significant struggles, mental health struggles as I progressed through my 20s. And it was only really when it was brought to my attention that rather than helping me perfectionism was something that actually was holding me back and creating the problems that I was experiencing. And that was when I really thought, well, we should really try and understand this more. But there wasn’t a great deal of research out there, but certainly not a societal level. And so that was really the spark that got me thinking, Okay, well, maybe there’s something going on right now in modern culture. And maybe perfectionism is the modern Zeitgeist.
You know how much I believe that perfectionism is one of the biggest things holding us back from becoming more environmentally friendly, more regenerative, more circular. And if you’ve been around for a while, you’ll also know how much I love a TED talk. So you can only imagine how excited I was when Tom Curran’s PR person got in touch to ask if I’d like to interview him for the podcast. Tom is the social psychologist behind the TED Talk “Our dangerous obsession with perfectionism is getting worse”. And he’s also one of the academics behind the first systems level cohort study of the rise of perfectionism in students. So this man really knows his stuff. And we have an absolutely brilliant conversation about the importance of embracing imperfection. Enjoy.
Tom, could you start by introducing yourself telling listeners now you became a social and personality psychologists, and perhaps exactly what a social and personality psychologist is?
Yeah. So my name is Thomas Curran. I’m a psychology professor at the London School of Economics and, and I’m the author of a new book The Perfection Trap. I am a social psychologist, you’re absolutely right. And a social psychologists are interested in people, they’re interested in individuals and how they interact with other people, the social settings and the social environments that cultivate their personalities, their belief systems, their values, their judgments and all the rest of it. So that’s what we do. And I’m particularly interested in the personality characteristic of perfectionism.
Amazing, how did you first become interested in perfectionism?
Oh, gosh, from a young age, I would always describe myself as a bit of an anxious kid. And always found very high, pressurised situations quite challenging. And as I got older, I kind of turned that anxiety into unrelenting standards for myself, which led to some quite significant struggles, mental health struggles as I progressed through my 20s. And it was only really when it was brought to my attention that rather than helping me perfectionism was something that actually was holding me back and creating the problems that I was experiencing. And that was when I really thought, well, we should really try and understand this more, because this wasn’t something that I experienced, this is something that I saw all around me, my friends, my family members, the students I was teaching. But there wasn’t a great deal of research out there, but certainly not a societal level. And so that was really the spark that got me thinking, Okay, well, maybe there’s something going on right now in modern culture. And maybe perfectionism is the modern Zeitgeist.
And as you say, in your Ted Talk, Perfectionism is almost worn as a badge of honour, isn’t it? It’s that classic interview question, what’s your weakness, I’m a perfectionist like, things that people sort of almost seem to aspire to. So not only was there nothing around when you and I were younger about it being a bad thing, it was almost seen as a good thing. So in 2017, you published the first systems level cohort study to show that perfectionism is on the rise in American, Canadian and British college students. So I guess the kind of motivation for that study was your personal experience as a college student? Can you talk us through that study and perhaps share some of the findings?
Yeah, as I mentioned, I felt like I saw perfectionism all around me. And what was really interesting, I was an academic at this point. And I’ve been sort of five, six years in the job, when I first took up my first role. A lot of students would come to see me for issues with regards to you know, with regard to their work, their feedback, their grades, but increasingly I was seeing students come to me with those concerns, but also concerns that were very much rooted in self imposed pressures, worries about how they were doing, and in ability to summon them, an inability to even look at their grades for fear that they were going to be terrible, or we’re going to somehow ruin their future. And all of this pressure staggered me. And having experienced it myself, and still experiencing it, having seen perfectionism in the academic corridors, among colleagues, and as I said, among friends and families, I thought, well, you know, maybe we should actually try to understand what’s going on here. And is this something that’s increasing? Is it something that we’re seeing more of? So that was the that was the motivation behind the study, it took a while took me about three years to scrape all the possible data points that have been collected across about 30 years ago, got 30 years worth of college student data on levels of perfectionism. And when you run the numbers, what you see is that perfectionistic tendencies are increasing over time, which is worrying. But what’s more worrying about that particular data was that it was the social components of perfectionism. So this idea that everyone and all around me expects me to be perfect and nothing but perfect. Well, that was increasing rapidly and updated data from my book shows that it’s now on an exponential curve, those social perceptions of perfectionism. So they’ve rising really, really fast. And, and that’s only going to get faster into the future. So that was really the impetus behind the study. And what we found was, I guess, supporting my hypotheses, that perfectionism is indeed on the rise.
And do you think that that kind of social dimension of perfectionism is on the rise because of social media?
Everyone points to social media. I certainly think social media has a role to play in this and that, which is not a coincidence, I don’t think that we see that exponential curve start to inflect, around 2007, which was a significant day in many ways. But one of the ways in which it was quite significant was that that was the date when the first iPhone was released. And of course, social media was bad enough on analogue computers, but when you put it into every sphere of our lives, 24/7, you can begin to see how that kind of Hall of Mirrors of social comparison and limitless perfection and people’s lives and other people’s lives and lifestyles certainly will have an imprint on our own need to be perfect, but I don’t think it just is about social media. I think there was a global recession around that time, the economy started to slow. And we’re in a period now secular stagnation in the economy, which has made it much more difficult for young people to get on in life. Education is way more competitive than it used to be. And now really, the access to the good life is, is confined to a very narrow set of professions in tech, medicine, law, and finance. And if you don’t make it, then you’re going to struggle. And young people see this and they’re feeling this finding it much more difficult to get on having to delay adulthood can’t get on the housing ladder, all the rest of it. On top of those pressures in school and colleges, and also the workplace has got a lot to offer to the gig economy, people move from job to job, the concept of a career is becoming a foreign concept. And people feel like they got a hustle and grind all the time. There are also changes in parenting that we’re observing in the data to where parents are feeling these pressures in the outside while they’re seeing them. And they’re putting them on to young people for excessive expectations in terms of educational attainment, naturally, inevitably, quite understandably, because those expectations need to be higher, because young people do need to succeed in school and college. But all of these pressures, social media, schooling, workplace, parenting, are combining alongside a slowing economy, to create intolerable pressures on young people to be perfect and nothing but perfect just to get by. And I think that’s what we’re seeing in the data.
Yeah. And that’s sad, isn’t it, that idea of not having to be perfect to Excel, but having to be perfect, just to get by that that’s kind of the lowest standard that is acceptable is perfection, that’s quite terrifying.
Absolutely. And, you know, we, and we see this, I mean, I see this in the university corridors as I mentioned, I work at LSE. It’s a very exclusive selective university, and the kids there have worked so incredibly hard to get there. But it doesn’t end there. You know, then they’ve got to do the university process, whether among all sorts of other high achievers, and then they’re into the workplace where the pressure just keep ratcheting up. So I think it’s understandable that young people in this in this new world feel like there’s excessive expectation placed on them.
Yeah, it’s funny, you should say that it doesn’t end there. Having failed to get into the University of my choice as a young person, I went back and did a masters recently at Oxford. And I was telling somebody about it. And she looked at me quizzically and went, well, in what capacity does Oxford offer this course? And I was like, I don’t understand what the question is. So I sort of explained a bit more, and she sort of went “what college are you at? And I said, I’m at Kellogg, and she had never heard of it and walked off. And I was just like, wow, even Oxford’s not good enough for you. At which point, it was a real eye opening moment for me in terms of perfectionism, because I always thought if I got into Oxford, you know, that would be it, I would have arrived. But, you know, there are levels of Oxford, right? I wasn’t at the right college, it’s fascinating.
I was just gonna say that is the problem, though, with this world. Like, no matter how well you do, there’s always something more, isn’t there? Yeah. And the better you do, the better you’re expected to do both in yourself and also from other people. So it is unrelenting?
Yeah, absolutely. And I think people are starting to realise that perfectionism isn’t necessarily aspirational. So I run a membership called making design circular. And I did some free training recently, and I put the word perfect up on the screen, and asked people just to respond to it. And it was really interesting that people didn’t come up with words like excellence or achievement, they came up with words like burnout and unattainable. So I think people are starting to understand some of the problems with perfectionism. But I didn’t realise until I watched your TED Talk, quite how damaging it can be and the real correlation with mental health issues and some very serious mental health issues. Can you talk a little bit about what is the problem with perfectionism? What are some of the impacts of kind of the pursuit of perfection at all costs?
So a couple of big consequences of perfectionism that has massive impacts for mental health. First one is something called social disconnection. So perfectionists are really concerned about how other people appraise them. Whether they’re valued and approved and loved by other people. This is a huge part of perfectionistic psychology. Because deep down, they believe that they’re flawed. They’re imperfect that they’re deficient. And in order to feel a sense of self worth, they go about the world trying to hide those deficiencies from other people and seeking their approval and validation all times. Well, that’s okay. But what tends to happen is that perfectionistic people are so scared of rejection, so scared of criticism that they can move themselves away from people and the move themselves away from situations where they feel like they might be judged, so quite possibly critically. And that can create some social disconnection which can lead into things like loneliness and there’s a lot of data to suggest that perfectionistic people experience quite a lot of loneliness and social disconnection. That’s the first reason why it has an impact on mental health. The second reason is, because perfectionism has quite an aggressive, aggravated vulnerability built into it, and perfectionist people push themselves to the max and then some, it’s this idea of, well, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, I’ve got to keep pushing through the pain, I’ve got to keep grinding, I’ve got to keep going, I’ve got to keep my head up and keep moving forward, and that that’s an unsustainable way to live. And it’s unsustainable, because at some point, something’s going to come out the blue, there’s going to be a layer of grief, heartbreak, a global pandemic is going to come out of the blue, and screw everything up. Life is stressful. And when you when perfectionists are put into those stressful situations, what they don’t do is what they should do, they don’t slow down, they don’t try to recuperate, they don’t talk about it. They don’t accept that this is a tough time and bear any vulnerability. Instead, they try to conceal, hide, keep going, keep pushing. And all the while the stressful situation is creating all sorts of difficulties inside that perfectionistic person. It’s being amplified and aggravated by this need to just keep concealing. So you get a lot of anxiety, you get a lot of tension in perfectionistic people when they meet stressful situations that stress is amplified and it’s over generalised within the perfectionist. They think that it’s an indictment on them even though there’s nothing they could do about it. They take it very personally, as a further evidence that they’re flawed. And all of this anxiety, all this worry, all of this room and remuneration can lead to things like low mood, a sense of hopelessness, a sense of helplessness. And that’s why there’s a second reason why perfectionistic people have significant mental health problems in some cases, it certainly was the case for me when my perfectionism met some quite significant life stress in a very difficult breakup. You just don’t let yourself rest. You just don’t let yourself recuperate. You don’t give yourself permission to accept that life sometimes defeats us and that’s okay, that’s a part of parcel of being human being. Perfectionism is really pushing past those very human fallibilities and vulnerabilities to try and project all times perfect persona. But of course, that’s not, that’s not possible and left untreated, left unchecked, that can be quite, quite different.
Yeah, and then there’s sort of correlations with, as you mentioned, anxiety, depression, kind of suicidal ideation, like it can get very serious cant it this kind of, I’ve read some of that perfectionism is one of the sort of few things that overlaps with almost every mental health condition.
Yes, we call it what’s called a transdiagnostic risk factor. Because it can, it can lead to all manner of mental health afflictions, not just the obsessive compulsive types, which is what a lot of people connect it to. And the reason is for those two reasons that we just discussed the social disconnection and also the aggravated vulnerability that’s built into perfectionism when things go wrong. So yeah, left unchecked, left untreated, left to run its course, it can create some really, really quite significant and serious mental mental health problems. And so I’d encourage anyone listening right now if if, if they are experience perfectionism, is beginning to really have a negative impact on the life don’t let it unfold, take action, speak to someone seek help, those are really, really important things to do to address those perfectionistic tendencies taking on.
yeah, and I’ll put some resources in the show notes so if anybody has is feeling that way, that there’ll be some numbers for you to contact. I think it’s really interesting that you mentioned this idea of kind of social disconnection. And I think certainly, the thing that I found in my experiences with perfectionism is this sense that I’m always hiding parts of myself, as you say, it’s those bits that you believe to be flawed. And I think you can’t make a real connection with somebody a genuine connection. If you’re, if you’re hiding parts of yourself, right, you have to feel able to show up as your whole flawed, vulnerable self in order to make genuine connection and then kind of overcome some of those loneliness issues. But I think it’s interesting that this idea of what happens to perfectionist in times of crisis because again, I think the tendency is to double down right and to work harder and be more perfect. So what is the difference? Because certainly when I was trying to overcome my perfectionism, my big fear was that I’m letting myself off the hook, then my work outputs are not going to be as good. You know, I’m going to, excuse me, I’m going to kind of stop achieving the things I want to achieve. But perfectionism and the pursuit of excellence are different, right? Can you can you help us pull those two things apart a little bit and understand how people can let go of perfection while still seeking excellence?
Yeah, I’m asked this a lot and I suppose my take on it is slowly controversial, maybe. Awesome. Certainly a controversial part of my book. You know, perfection is an impossible goal. But I just wonder the usefulness of swapping an impossible goal for an improbable goal. Nassim Taleb did a analysis recently that showed in order to get to the top of any discipline, using an example of sport, you need to be a Six Sigma, individual, six standard deviations away from me, that’s one excellent person in a top profession for what every 1.4 million people on the planet. Now, most of us, fully 70% that are going to fall somewhere along the mean, around the mean, around the average. And there really shouldn’t be any shame being average. And I think the danger for us in seeking excellence instead of perfection, is what we’re doing is we’re just swapping really impossible for a lofty, and for most people improbable goal and accepting that we might very probably be the average isn’t about losing our aspiration, we could still make it to the very top if our efforts and our talents take us there. And if we do make it to the very top, that’s amazing. Create, you know, savour that moment, enjoy it and if you can use it to do good, but at the same time, if we don’t quite make it, if we don’t quite scale, that dizzying height of getting through that rough selection process and making it, it’s also fine too. The main thing is about purpose and meaning in our lives and about doing things that bring us joy, that we are leaving something in the world, that we’re creating things other people to use, and enjoy. For me, that’s where the motivation for what we do, should come from. And that doesn’t preclude us from excellence. Absolutely not. And I’m sure in our own worlds, there’ll be things that we do, where we do become excellent at certain things. But this is a huge world. And there are so many millions and billions of people on the face of this planet. And we are always going to find ourselves, like we just mentioned earlier, in a doom loop of chasing ever increasing expectations, if we don’t, at some point realise that, it’s not about other people, but it’s about us and what we’re leaving in the world. So I think if chasing, swapping perfection for excellence, is perhaps the wrong way to look at the solution to the perfection problem. I think what’s a better way to look is for us to accept, accept ourselves, accept our circumstances, the world where it is, and within that, within that world, try to find purpose and meaning I think there’s some most important thing.
I think most of my listeners will be artists, designers, makers, craftspeople, who are perhaps less interested in quote, unquote, reaching the top of their game, and more interested in making sure the thing they’ve made has been made with a mastery of their craft, I suppose. And so I guess, perhaps this there’s a slight nuance in excellence when it’s defined in a competitive way, and perhaps being an elite athlete versus in a way that is more internally defined. So I want to get really good at this skill. And I think it’s also interesting, you mentioned purpose, because my membership is called making design circular. And it’s all about kind of working towards a circular economy. And I think there’s also something in that idea of your goals and aspirations being around individual achievement versus the attainment of purpose. And I’m very much thinking of Simon Sinek book, The Infinite Game at the moment. And this idea that having a goal that is always beyond our reach, but sort of self serves as a North Star, and it’s about something bigger than ourselves, can perhaps undo some of that perfectionist tendencies because it becomes more about contribution and service than achievement. Would that be fair?
I think that’s absolutely right. I would say a lot of my thinking comes actually from a grandfather and my grandfather was a master craftsman in the in the local area and sadly he’s no longer with us but there are parts of his work that are still exist today in pubs of Northamptonshire and I’ll sometimes go with my dad and my brother and we have a drink. And at some level he’s there like it’s a you know, he’s in the bannisters and the staircases and the window frames of the pubs. And it’s a beautiful thing. And I remember when I was very young going into his bungalow, and he just showed me how to cut these reclaimed bits of timber into perfectly measured strips of wood and carve and contour the strips and mark them with precision and slot them together and fix them with screws and all the rest of it. And you’d look from the vantage point of a child, this was just incredible. This was how on earth this man creates such beautiful, but everyday things. And what was striking about him because he was someone who, who had a really high standards, you could say strive for excellence, I suppose I’m not sure he’d put it in those terms, but, but he wasn’t a perfectionist, because he didn’t have the insecurities that come with being a perfectionist, the idea that we worry about what other people think, you know, he just leave these wonderful pieces of functional art in their new homes and just leave like not loiter for validation, or a five star review like we would do these days and worry about what other people think, you know, the fickle opinion of other people really wasn’t a concern for him. I suppose if he if he did leave something a little bit askew or whatever it kind of just see that as sure a sign of his fallibilities is wrinkles or sciatica, or I don’t think he would have had any hang ups in that way. And that’s really had a profound impact on, I mean, I’m not a craftsman, my work is in the office my wares are words and I worry all the time about what other people are thinking, you know, I’m worried If I get a one star review for a book is really hard to be able to, you know, read it, you know, because you, you worry so much about what other people think because that’s how you that’s how you see the value and worth of your own work. And as I say, I think you’re absolutely right, there has to be a personal element to this, we can’t take things personally. And perfectionism makes everything personal. So my grandfather’s lesson for me is that you can strive for excellent standards, but it’s not really, that’s not really the motivation, the motivation is to leave something in the world for other people to use and enjoy something that out lasts you. And that’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about purpose, and that’s what I’m trying to do in my own life.
I love that. Yeah, that that idea of, of kind of leaving something, whether it’s a physical, you know, piece of handcrafted wood in a pub, or whether it’s ideas and knowledge and changed minds, but leave something that outlasts you. Now, I think perfectionism can be really sneaky, though, because many of my listeners, I said are craftspeople. And there is a lot of chat in the craft world about the imperfection of natural materials or the mark of the human hand, right? We’re very comfortable with imperfection in craft, that’s what differentiates it from mass produced objects. However, as soon as I start talking to them about environmentalism, there’s a sense that they’ve got to get it right. But it’s got to be, you know, I can’t put this out into the world yet, because it’s not environmentally friendly enough. Or even people will say to me, I can’t join making design circular, which is all about helping them become more environmentally friendly, because they’re not environmentally friendly enough. And there’s this real sense in environmentalism of perfectionism, where it doesn’t necessarily exist in their craft. And I think there’s another thing where people sort of think, Oh, I’m not being influenced by what other people think this is what I think. But then they realise that what they think has actually been influenced by, you know, messages they’ve received growing up, or whatever it is. So those they’ve kind of internalised other people’s voices. So how do we get around kind of some of the sneakiness of perfectionism?
I mean, that is a perfectionistic mindset, of course it is. But it’s also something that’s out there in the social world we live in, we live in a culture of blame, where everybody wants to point the finger, somebody or something has to be to blame. And if we’re not perfect enough, if we’re not environmentally friendly enough, if we’re not sustainable enough, there’s always somebody there to remind us or there’s always someone on the right invariably will tell us we’re hypocritical or whatever. If we’re not doing a, you know, if we’re not being 100%, green, or whatever it might be. My point is that this is also a social phenomenon that there’s you’re always going to be reminded all the time that you’re advocating one thing, but you’re not doing and it’s really tough. I think the thing to bear in mind is that there is no perfect solution to the climate crisis. There are many, many good enough solutions. And it’s important that we take a path that gets us to that destination. Absolutely. But it isn’t going to happen overnight. And you can’t hold yourself to standards that just impossible to adhere to. That’s just not an that’s not a healthy way to live. And so give you permission yourself permission sometimes to create things in ways that, you know might not be 100% sustainable, but nevertheless, you know, that you can take it a step in the right direction that you some, some sustainable materials, you know, developed or created and delivered in a way that’s sustainable, or there’s something in there that there’s moving you in the, in the right direction, I think it’s all about the direction of travel. And taking, you know, not trying to tune out that noise. It’s all around you, that tells you it has to be absolutely perfect and accepting that, you know, this is a journey. And, and we’re all doing our best to try it. Well, those of us who are striving for these things, we’re all doing our best to move in in the right direction. And that’s amazing.
Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it, because there’s a phrase I heard somewhere which I repeat a lot, which is the planet doesn’t need a few of us doing this perfectly, it needs all of us trying and failing and trying again. But that implies that a few of us can do this perfectly. And what you’re saying is there’s actually no way of doing it perfectly. So I think that’s an important it’s an important thing to remember is there’s no such thing as perfect. So striving for it is a is a fool’s errand.
I want to use this opportunity of a little sort of mini ad break of sorts to tell you about three things that I think you might be interested in. The first is my latest book Broken: Mending and repair in a throwaway world, which came out in May 2023, with Ludion the publisher of my last four books, and I’m so excited about it. Jay blades was kind enough to write the foreword, and it explores the role of mending and repair in a world where we don’t really need to mend anymore. So I’m looking at the social and cultural roles that mending is playing. And those include mending as restoration of function, which you might sort of immediately think of when you think of repair, but also repair a storytelling repair as activism, repair as healing, and even the regeneration of natural systems as a form of repair. It profiles 28, amazing menders, fixers, hackers, remakers, curators and artists. And it is the book I’m the most proud of so far. And I know I always say that, but I really am, it came out of my research at Oxford and I think it makes an important and new contribution to the field of writing on repair. So if you want to get your hands on a copy, the link is in the show notes.
I would also love to tell you about a free resource I have created called cultivating hope in the face of the environmental crisis. And the reason I have made this freely available is because I think it’s so important. If we don’t believe that change is possible and if we don’t believe we have some agency in bringing about that change, we won’t act. So cultivating hope is a three part mini course that’s all delivered direct to your inbox. And it helps you to move through feelings of despair and hopelessness. It helps you to reconnect with nature and that sort of brilliant effect that we know natural spaces have on our wellbeing. And it helps you to start taking aligned action. So if the relentless news cycle has got you feeling, kind of feeling all the doom and gloom, then check that out. Again, the link is in the show notes.
And finally, I want to tell you about making design circular the membership. So if you are a designer, a maker, an artist or a crafts person, and you feel drawn to sustainability, regeneration, environmentalism, whatever you want to call it, this is for you. It is an online membership community of brilliant, gorgeous, imperfect souls who have come together to try to make progress in this area. And it’s all built around the idea that you can pour into yourself and take care of yourself and pour into your creative practice and your expression and exploration of creativity and pour into your business and turn all of this or keep all this as a profitable business and benefit the planet. And we want all of those things in alignment so that pouring into any one of them benefits the others and that’s what the membership is built around. The strapline is rewild your creative practice so that you your business and the planets can thrive. So if that sounds like something that you need in your life, again, the link is in the show notes. All right, well, I will hand you back over to this fabulous conversation. Thank you.
There’s one phrase in your TED Talk that really stood out to me. And that was the phrase failure is not weakness. And again, I think creative entrepreneurs are very familiar with phrases like fail fast, fail, often, they understand failure as part of the creative process. And yet, when you’re in the middle of failing, it feels horrible. And you’ve talked about this idea of kind of insecurity being part of perfectionism. So how do you advise kind of moving through failure in a way that helps you to understand it’s not weakness?
You just got to get comfortable with it. You know, failure is such an intimately, human experience. Look, we’re going to fail way, way more than we’re going to succeed. That’s the first thing to remember. We’re fallible, we’re exhaustible creatures. And it doesn’t matter what discipline you’re in, you know, 250 of the 251 cyclists in Tour de France are not going to win the general classification. 49 of the 50 tennis players that start Wimbledon are not going to, are going to fail, they’re not going to win.
It always amazes me how many people talk about Tim Henman as not being a very good tennis player. And it’s, he’s one of the best in the world!
It’s crazy, it’s crazy that we have these exceptionally high standards for success. And anything that falls just slightly short of it is just an abject failure. And that’s just, but that’s the world we live in, you know, we live in the world of the high achiever, everything and all around us celebrates the unicorn achiever, the zero 0.1% individual that makes it the very top, that’s all we ever bloody hear from on the High Performance podcast, the people that made it through some brutal selection process, because they’re the people we apparently should be listening to for advice of how we make it to the top, same as social media, same in schools and colleges and universities, it’s everywhere. And this is really problematic, because what it shows us is that if we don’t quite make it to that ridiculously high bar, then somehow we’re a failure. And I think we got to learn to get comfortable with failure. I think that if you want to break through failure, the best thing to do is put yourself out there in positions where you’re going to experience more and more of it. Because the more you can become comfortable with it, the more you can sit next to it, become amicable with uncomfortable conversation, the more you can let those feelings of anxiety, uncomfortableness, this worry, just wash over you, at least for a little while, not try and change it. Don’t try and recycle it into growth or excellence. Just let it be for a second and accept that this is what it means to be a fallible human being this moment where I slipped up, where screwed up, where I’ve given a bad presentation, where I’ve got a one star review for a product. This is the moment to actually breathe in and realise that I put something out there that I try it. And that this feedback, although difficult, is nevertheless an important part of the learning process. But it’s also an important part of the failure process, human very human process of just being fallible. And you know, I know that’s a very philosophical way to think but I think it’s such an important way to go through life acknowledging that failures of this beautiful thing that we shouldn’t be afraid of, it’s very humanizing, it’s certainly not humiliating, and the more we put ourselves out there and the more we can expose ourselves to failure, the more comfortable we get with it. And I think that’s really the that’s my take. By the way. That’s like taking a sledgehammer to perfectionism. Just putting yourself out there and feeling the fear of doing it anyway. So and failure is certainly part of that process.
I was gonna ask you for one thing that my listeners could do today towards battling with perfectionism. But perhaps that’s it right? Putting themselves out there in a way that means they might fail.
Yeah, get out there. The creative process is so interesting, because I mean, I like to play music and playing music, and writing, music has been one of the things, this is how I put my creative energies to use. And it’s been, it’s helped me through some of the darkest times in my life, it’s a wonderful thing, it’s gives me great joy and purpose. But the problem is that I cant sing. So, you know, songwriting and musical talent, yes, I have those things. But I don’t have that final component. I used to really struggle with this, because I was so worried about what other people think, like, this guy is terrible, he sounds rubbish. And so I would hide and I would never play in front of anyone. And I would just take myself down to the most secluded place and play on my own by myself. And I think one of the things, that’s really important, and this goes for everybody, you don’t have to be world champion at something to go out there and do it. You don’t have to be exceptional to go out there and do it. If it brings you joy, if it brings you pleasure, and it brings you purpose and meaning. Just do it. Just enjoy, just play or create or cook, just for the inherent pleasure that that brings you. And just because you are not an exceptional cook, or an a world class athlete, it doesn’t mean you can’t participate, it doesn’t mean you can’t do these things. So that’s for me, you know, as I mentioned, putting yourself out there, and just doing it is so so important.
Yeah, I think that’s really interesting, isn’t it the sort of hustle culture, we used to have hobbies, right? Whereas now you have to have a side hustle, which has to be a business and unless it’s profitable, it’s failing. And it’s like, what happened to just doing a thing because you enjoyed doing it and being mediocre at it. I think that’s really important. And so we’ve talked a little bit and this is my final question Before we dive into the quickfire round. We’ve talked a little bit about how it’s not just individual perfectionist, but a culture of perfectionism. And everybody listening, I’m sure wants to leave the world a better place than they found it. So what are some ways that artists, makers, craftspeople can contribute to a culture of imperfect progress?
Well, I think it’s kind of happening. And it’s really tackling what of what I mentioned before about this culture right now of the exceptional high achiever, all you ever see, and you can go to any field, but to architecture, craftsmanship, whatever, all you ever see, when you look around you are those that are kind of made it to the very, very top and everywhere you look, whether it’s social media, television, billboards, movie screens, you see limitless perfection everywhere. People that have infinite resources, once you make it to the top, you suddenly get all these resources, which help you create these things to a very high beauty or precision or whatever it might be. So this is this is something that I think collectively, we need to start tackling. And we need, we need to understand that this isn’t in any way healthy. And actually, it isn’t indicative of what it means to be successful. Because these people are made it through some brutal selection process. And you know, there are so many factors out there meant they got there whether it be social circumstances, where they started in life, their family connections, the place they grew up, you know, if we’re talking about athletics, their genes, there’s all sorts of things that mean, they got to the top that have absolutely nothing to do with perfectionism or their relentless standards. And I think it’s sometimes we need to acknowledge that there’s a broader context to success and what’s successful, one person is not successful for another person. And that’s absolutely fine that, you know, we all live inside their own realities, and social circumstances, and all the rest of it. And I think if we can show that if we can be open and vulnerable, and in social media, if we can be willing to share our mistakes, as well as our successes, the things that didn’t quite go so well, as well as the things that did. And by the way, this is happening, we are starting to see this kind of be real movement, people showing their, the nuts and bolts of everyday, the ordinary, the average. And I think this is something to be celebrated. And I think we should be doing more of this because this is only something that’s going to come from the bottom up, it’s not going to be something that’s going to come from the top down. This isn’t gonna be a big seismic change that advertisers and big businesses suddenly going to embrace unless it’s profitable, and then then they obviously will. But if we as a collective can be a bit more open a bit more vulnerable, share our imperfections. I think that can have a cascading impact on what we define as success, and maybe open up the boundaries towards successful means.
Yeah, amazing. I think it’s really interesting how sometimes by doing these things, you just inherently give other people permission to do the same, right? So there’s something about showing up imperfectly, that enables other people to show up imperfectly. So we will all try to do that more on social media. Right quickfire round, what is the best book and I will link to your book in the show notes. But what is the best book by someone else that you have either read or listened to lately?
Well, can I give you two because it’s so bloody, so good. Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth. You have the checkout. This book is transformational. It’s provocative. We have a growth problem and we ain’t gonna technologically work our way out of it. We have to reconcile at some point with the fact that growth and growth and more growth is going to lead us to is unsustainable and lead us to a path of planetary breakdown. Also human breakdown, which is which is what my book is about, ultimately. And Kate Raworth’s a high profile economist. She’s really trying to tackle this trying to tackle the growth problem by thinking about how we can create a circular economy and I think it’s such an important book to read. And the other one is, Listen Liberal by Thomas Frank, I’d really recommend you go out and grab this book because Thomas Frank provides a deep dive into liberal politics in the US and how it’s created all sorts of societal fissures and failures, particularly rooted. He has a big chapter on meritocracy, which is very influential in my own thinking about meritocracy, its links to perfectionism. So definitely check out that book by Tom Frank.
Thank you. We will link to both of those and to your book in the show notes. Favourite podcast?
I try not to listen, I listen to podcasts just to chill out, relax. And my favourite one at the moment is a daily podcast called Chatabix with comedian Joe Wilkinson and David Earl. I think its really funny, very humanising. They talk a lot about deficiencies of failures in real life and I just find it very comforting, so that’s a good one to do.
Amazing, perfect. Finish this sentence circularity is
it’s about sustainability, about regeneration. Accepting that enough is plenty and leaving aside a word that meets the needs of all people that gives them permission to flourish.
Beautiful always get the best answers to that one. What is one thing that you wish environmentally responsible designer makers and craftspeople knew?
Nothing is perfect or could ever be made perfect, so do what you can to make beautiful things for the simple joy of them being left in the world to be used and enjoyed.
Nice and I could like see your grandfather as you would say. And finally, what is the best or worst life or business advice you’ve ever been given?
I’ve never been given, I don’t come from a very business savvy family, I come from a working class family and I’ve never been given any business advice, certainly not hard-nosed business advice, nor have I ever sought out business advice. So I’m a bit hopeless in this domain. I often find that the advice it’s given is meaningless because often depends on one person’s economic and social circumstances. So what’s good advice for somebody in London you come from middle class background is very bad advice for some working background and vice versa, I’m sure so it’s all very individual specific. My dad always said to me, just do a good job. That’s all that’s his advice to me as I left home to go to university. And I think that’s something I’ve always tried to do. So just do a good job.
I love that perfect thank you very much Thomas. It’s been an absolute dream chatting to you and I think this is really important stuff that my listeners will take great value and comfort from so thank you.
Thanks, Katie. It’s great to chat.
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Making Design Circular with Katie Treggiden. It is so lovely to know that there are people out there tuning into these conversations. If you found that interesting, I would love to connect with you on Instagram, I am on @katietreggiden.1. And if you’re a designer, maker, artist or crafts person who’s interested in sustainability and environmentalism, then please also follow @making_design_circular_ and both of those are in the shownotes. You can also follow my email newsletter there. I would be super grateful if you’re listening to this on an iPhone or iPad or other Apple device if you could leave us a review on Apple podcasts. I think that’s the only podcast platform that takes reviews, but it’s incredibly helpful to help people find us and make sure that more and more people are finding this message. So if you could take a couple of moments just to leave a review there that would be amazing. And I would also like to say a quick thank you to the incredible Kirsty Spain, who produces and edits this podcast and keeps me on track so that these episodes actually make it into your ears. So thank you very much, Kirsty.
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