Perfection is tangible. It creates standards and definitions – one can decide exactly how long one meter should be. It is the essence of measurement and forms the basis for all engineering and technology. Striving for perfection, though, can lead to problems. As centimeters turn into millimeters, micrometers and nano-meters, we realize that there are physical limits to our accuracy.
Perfection can be a good servant, but a dangerous master. The pursuit for perfection can feed our fear and hold us back from putting out our best work. Perfection can morph into an illusion and lose the human touch. That is why many people are choosing imperfect vinyl records over a lossless Blu-ray disks and physical books over perfectly formatted e-books.
Excellence is intangible. It can only be sensed, not measured. We understand it intuitively, and not explicitly. Excellence is a habit, not a well-defined target. It is vague, and often subjective. Excellence is the regular practice that feeds our confidence and the trust we instill in other people.
While both perfection and excellence strive for improvement towards an ideal, perfection is the precision that is an illusion, whereas excellence is the vagueness that feels familiar and human.