I’ve been thinking a bit about imperfection lately. Imperfection makes us connect. In stories. In flows. In love.
To explain imperfection in stories is easy: you provide a lose framework but leave intended gaps in the story, so the audience can step in and improve with their contributions. It’s a great way to motivate interaction with the story. (check out Scott Walker’s take on imperfection in transmedia)
To pin down imperfection in practice is a bit trickier. I found in my research on the production of participatory stories that there’s a lot of exploratory imperfection due to the genre being quite novel still. Maybe such practice is best described as a playful approach to experiment with possibilities without having sufficient tools at hand. A key driver is discovery, transgressing into unknown terrain to find out how it can be navigated. Such exploration can’t draw on tested mechanisms, there are no proven paths to follow, so it’s trial and error that necessarily includes much imperfection. And embracing failure.
And in this realm, which is a liminal threshold, we have limited access to language to express and share our thoughts and approaches. So we encounter more misunderstandings, which again can spawn creativity and unexpected insights due to mismatching logical concatenations, which result in actions, then outcomes. Contingency multiplies when we move along those borders. And in the course of innovating we tend to gradually fix the imperfection that occurs between us, start matching our divergent thinking, anticipate the other empathically, search a more attuned connection to share a congruent understanding. Once we do, we leave the avant-garde. We perfected enough to create a least common denominator.
So, here comes one of my favorite stories (it has probably been told more elaborately elsewhere, but there you go):
The missing piece was kind of C-shaped and managed to get ahead in life, one step after the other. It rolled smoothly for a bit and then hit a corner, which made it hard to move on, but still worked out fine enough. One day the missing piece met another missing piece and they complemented each other wonderfully, so they connected and rolled superwell together. But, boohoo, after a while they developed cracks in their connection and didn’t roll quite as nicely anymore. They tried to hold on fast, but fell apart eventually as the cracks got too big. So the missing piece was on its own again, hitting these edgy corners, struggling. Then it met a rolling ‘O’ and said ‘wow, you’re awesomely round. I want to be with you and roll like you’. But the rolling ‘O’ said ‘Sorry that’s not possible, there’s no way to attach here’. The missing piece looked sad, so the rolling ‘O’ added. ‘But you just keep on going, keep on working on your edges. Every time you overcome an edge, they’ll smoothen and – bit by bit – it’ll get easier to roll on your own. So the missing piece kept on overcoming its edginess and eventually rounded itself so well that it joined the rolling ‘O’ and they rolled around together, separately.
For long, I thought ‘hell yeah, rolling ‘O’, but maybe being a missing piece is quite fun. I kind of like the edginess and I like connecting with other unfinished pieces. I also do like to fail better each time.
What I’m trying so say is that imperfection might not only help us connect, give and share, but that it’s also a universal pattern that drives us to improve things and should be embraced more readily.