Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good
We couldn’t have imagined a better guest to kick off our first episode of Leader Talk! The entire Brainiact team are grateful that Daniel Wood, the VP Sales & Marketing APAC at Tupperware Brands, made some time in his very busy schedule to give back to small and medium-sized businesses.
Over the last ten years, Daniel has led the Australian operations of two US multinationals in the direct sales industry. In these roles, he has completed amazing business transformations which have changed the way direct sales businesses operate in the Australian market. On top of all this, Daniel is a respected, inspirational and well-loved leader, who brings out the best in his entire team.
In our chat with Daniel, we covered a variety of topics – ranging from how Daniel started his career in a West Yorkshire bed factory to the importance of expanding small business’ digital presence during COVID-19. As we discussed these topics, there was one common denominator that we kept circling back to – the importance of taking action and not waiting for perfection.
So, without further ado, here is what Daniel has to say about leadership, direct sales and why you shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It's also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.
Authored by Daniel Wood. The VP Sales and Marketing APAC at Tupperware Brands.
I don’t strive for perfection because I know that we live in an imperfect world. Instead, I spend my time focused on action – on getting an idea up and running, out the door, and I then adjust it from there.
As the VP Sales & Marketing APAC at Tupperware Brands, I have never seen myself as a visionary leader. I’m practical, not visionary, and I believe we need to focus less on visionaries and more on the importance of having good operators, people who know how to get things done. I know from experience how easy it is to become fixated on one flaw and lose sight of the bigger picture. We too often get lost in the details and forget to ask whether our actions are moving us in the right direction.
Where did this idea come from: that "the perfect is the enemy of the good"? I don’t know for sure, but I know that similar phrases show that we have been struggling to prioritise progress over perfection for a long time. In a Forbes article titled ‘Why Perfection is the Enemy of Done’, there is a list of quotes from iconic figures. These quotes show how far back our perfectionist tendencies go. Voltaire, the French writer, said, “The best is the enemy of the good.” Confucius wrote, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” And, of course, there’s Shakespeare: “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”
Direct sales and Tupperware
Now, you might be asking why I’m writing this piece. You might be wondering what Tupperware has to do with progress and perfection. I have a two-word answer to these questions: “Direct sales.” Bear with me for a second here while I explain this, starting with what direct sales actually is and how it teaches skills that are essential for small and medium-sized business owners.
In general, direct sales companies have two ways of earning money: selling their products for a profit and recruiting consultants to sell their products. I often find it helpful to think of this business model as being like a channel. In the case of Tupperware, we get our product to consumers through our independent sales force. Each member of our sales force is running a small business. By building a bigger network, our independent Tupperware sellers are able to reach more customers and sell more products.
This is a model that Tupperware has used for a long time and the success of this brand is due to our independent sellers. When Earl Tupper, a chemical Engineer, created Tupperware in the early 1940s, he had managed to invent an excellent product. He used durable, flexible, odourless, non-toxic plastic to make storage containers that keep food fresh. Earl Tupper patented the Tupper Seal in 1949 and he introduced his range of containers into small, family-owned stores. However, there was one catch: consumers did not understand how to use the seal, and the product didn’t sell much at all.
This all changed with Brownie Wise, a divorced single mum with an eighth-grade education and inherent entrepreneurial skills. In the late 1940s, Brownie Wise had discovered that she could make a good living from selling Stanley Home Products. Wise took the skills that she learned as a Stanley dealer and applied them when she was hired as the vice president and general manager of Tupperware Home Parties.
From here, Wise helped build the Tupperware brand we know today. She introduced the concept of ‘home party sales,’ and trained Tupperware Ladies to host them in their living rooms. The strength of Tupperware’s brand has only grown since then. Now, we have around three million independent sellers, spread across the globe, with many of these small business owners applying the lessons Wise taught back in the 1940s.
Prepared to act
So, what has kept me in the direct sales industry? Why do I think it’s a useful way of thinking about progress rather than perfection, and how do I think it teaches skills that will help small and medium-sized business owners? It’s simple. Direct sales unleash people’s potential. In my case, I started my career in a bed factory in West Yorkshire. By that standard, direct sales has allowed me to enjoy the relative success I have today. I’ve been propelled forwards by direct sales because it gives people like me an opportunity. It encourages drive and action, and it brings out our inherent entrepreneurial abilities.
The skills I learned from direct sales are skills which will help you run a small or medium-sized business. Business owners, just like direct sellers, must be prepared to act. When operating a business, you cannot wait for perfection. If you wait too long to start selling your product or update your business model, you’ll become stagnant. You will lose momentum and you will struggle to expand your network of customers. Your success is dependent on you and how well you embrace action.
In the world of direct sales, those who succeed do not procrastinate. This is because procrastination is a real barrier to growth. I always say that experience is the greatest teacher. You have to be prepared to make mistakes and overcome failure. As hard as it might be, sellers who go out there and try again, after making a mistake, are those who do well. Success comes for those who do not wait for the perfect time or product.
Crisis and opportunity
The key to overcoming crises or challenging times lies in progress, not perfection. Countless small and medium-sized business owners have experienced this lately. COVID-19 presents business owners with a choice. We can resign ourselves to the situation, or we can seek innovative solutions.
In Australia, lockdowns have forced countless businesses to adapt. Lockdowns have changed how we interact with customers, how we work with our employees, and how supply chains deliver our products and services. Research shows how businesses that innovate during crises deliver superior growth and performance post crisis. So, now more than ever is the time to embrace action, flexibility, and change – not perfection. Already, we have plenty of examples of this. Cafes and restaurants are offering home delivery, tutors are conducting their classes over zoom, clothing companies are making face masks – the list goes on.
At Tupperware, we have had to do exactly this during COVID-19. Just like countless other small and medium-sized businesses, we’ve also had to update our digital services. Until recently, if you wanted to buy a Tupperware product you had to seek out an independent sales representative or attend a Tupperware party. Even before COVID-19, we knew this business model needed to be updated. We needed to adjust to our world of online shopping, Amazon marketplaces and Instagram ads. For, even though Tupperware had incredible brand recognition, the business was not as large as it should be. This challenge sparked potential.
We knew that a new strategy was needed and that some little tweaks to our business model could lead to more success. We created digital tools that were relatively low cost. Glossy design and high-production value are good for branding, but they do not always make people interested in purchasing your product. The main thing is to be relatable – not to present an alienating vision of perfection. We also knew that our digital tools could get better over time. The most important thing was to have a digital presence.
We also trusted the entrepreneurial skills of our independent sellers. This is a key aspect of Tupperware’s successful business model and it’s something that can be applied to any small or medium-sized business. Think about it. If you are working for a company that only prioritises the success of its leaders or board of directors, are you going to feel motivated? Probably not. When your employees feel like they are part of a team, everyone will be more invested in achieving their shared goals. That’s why I always think a successful leader is only ever someone who makes their entire team successful.
We trusted our independent sellers and we couldn’t have worked towards the future without them. At the same time, as people stuck at home are cooking more, Tupperware’s network of independent sellers is reaching larger audiences through social media channels like Facebook, Zoom and TikTok. Some Tupperware parties are even held through Zoom and Facebook. Many might have thought that a global pandemic would be too difficult for us to overcome. But the opposite has happened. Tupperware sales are surging.
If your business is facing challenges during this time, the most important thing is to act – to ramp up the pace of change. Crises sharpen our focus and encourage innovation. My advice for small and medium-sized business owners is to focus on the process, not the end result. When you put too much emphasis on the final product, you often become stuck when things aren’t working the way you might have hoped.
You should focus on the daily processes that allow your work to unfold. If you do this, you can learn from your mistakes and refine your business practices. If you can commit yourself to the refinement of an idea, that’s how you’re going to ultimately end up with something valuable. But thinking that you can sit at a desk, come up with an incredible idea and then execute it to perfection is a recipe for stagnation. Instead, what you should focus on is never letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.