In the ad industry, one of our time-honored maxims is “good is the enemy of great.”
In practice, “good is the enemy of great” means don’t accept the first good solution, or the second or the third. It means exhaust every possibility until you are sure you’ve got a gem or two to present to your boss and/or client.
In certain creative circles it would be bad form, heresy even, to question this law of ad physics. Yet, changes in media and agency compensation have led some, myself included, to question if there isn’t a better way to do more in less time (without sacrificing quality).
In my experience, agencies waste a lot of their own time and the client’s money. Does it truly take two weeks to come up with a print ad? Do you really need to write 200 taglines to find one great one? Personally, I am confident I can write a winner in under 50 tries. Which also means I can charge a fraction of the typical cost for it.
Let’s turn to an academic for more insight. According to The Atlantic, Swarthmore College psychology professore Barry Schwartz believes that the modern world’s smorgasbord of options makes us less happy, not more. “Choice overload,” as he calls it, makes us question our decisions, set our expectations too high, and blame ourselves for our mistakes.
If he is right, perhaps we need not put so many options on the table. Schwartz is talking about consumer society in particular; I’m stretching his argument to workplace culture. Please understand, I am not advocating for a short cut or mediocrity. I am suggesting the old way of making ads is archaic and needs updating. As craftsmen, let’s be more confident in our own abilities to get it right, right off the bat.
Schwartz says people who settle for “good enough” are consistently happier, than people who feel that they must choose the very best possible option. Early in my career I carried a lot of angst around because I wasn’t working at the very top of the industry (at Goodby or Wieden) and I wasn’t bringing home the award show hardware. I can say now that my self-imposed judgments led me to lose sight of the bigger picture—like having a good paying job and the respect of my peers.
Excellence does not come easy. Neither does “good enough” come easy. Learning to let go and not be a control freak is also not easy. Nevertheless, with skill, practice and “confidence at the plate,” the desired outcomes can be achieved more efficiently, saving everyone time, money and unnecessary headaches.