Great is the enemy of good.

At the risk of raising the flag of hackdom, it seems that many of us in this business use the quest for “great” as a copout. By all means, let’s aim high, swing for the fences, blah blah blah. But, if great still means what it used to mean, it’s rare for any of us to have a great idea, and highly improbably for most of us. Hanging our hopes on executing a great idea can undermine our motivation to execute what is realistically the best we can do most of the time—a really good idea.

Very often, I see creatives who fight like crazy for what they’ve deemed a great idea. When it doesn’t get sold (because it wasn’t so great, or for a million other reasons having to do with agency and client myopia, paranoia, stupidity and the like), the creatives retreat and immediately resort to “let’s sell something” mode. Whatz!?

Maybe a handful of times in my experience have I witnessed a creative team going back to the drawing board, especially after the second round fails, armed with that legendary Chiat Day battle cry to return to the client with something better than what they couldn’t sell the first time.

This phenomenon of the quick retreat and shift from “create great” mode to “Let’s sell something” mode explains, at least in part, why the vast majority of ads, regardless of medium, fall into the just okay-to-dreadful range. Not only do many of us give up on great, we can’t even seem to get it up to go for good.

Would you trade our ad world in which the very occasional great ad is sold and produced, but where 95% of the ads are pretty bad or worse, for one in which, say, 40% of the ads were quite good, but we never saw a great one?

Littlejohn! RE: An Idea Reality Check, loved it overall, but . . . reading a book is experiencing a movie in my head? Whatz!? Experientially speaking, movies and books are similar experiences in only respect. Either way, someone tells you a story. Beyond that, they are profoundly different kinds of experience. At least in my head.


M Guy said...

I'm reminded of Paul Rand's famous quote: "Don't try to be original, just try to be good."

Anonymous said...

It still seems like a good thing to aim for greatness. Its learning to push past what you thought was great, but what met with rejection that's so hard. Sadistic even.

On the other topic, I agree. Books and movies are two totally different animals. They will always be different, even if they both succeed at greatness.

When I say, "the movie wasn't as good as the book" it means the movie failed in some way the book succeeded. If the movie and the book are both great that doesn't mean they created an identical experience. The movie will always show you things a book cannot and likewise the book will hold things the movie cannot show you.

Littlejohn said...

Of course watching movies and reading books are totally different experiences. I wasn't trying to say they were the same. By "the movie inside your head," I was referring to your imagination. Which, doesn't really work like a movie at all (that's the point).

When I read a book I can picture the characters and the setting and the action. I imagine it happening. Don't you? But since my imagination is limitless in its imagining power to see all kinds of things, in lucid, fuzzy, bright detail, it's usually a more richer experience than the movie, which feels flat in comparison. Not how I imagined it. I think the book is almost always better than the movie for that reason.

Can you think of a movie that was better than the book?

Todd W. said...

Amen to this post. I can't tell you how many times I have to argue with a team that simply can't be constrained by time, budgets or client inclinations all in the name of "doing great work." Who could possibly be against doing something great? You said it - only a hack. And there ends the

Can you think of a movie that was better than the book?

Blade Runner? Wizard of Oz?

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