Good Enough Is Not Good Enough

We Should Strive to Surpass Chiat's Axiom

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Cleveland Bart Cleveland
Remember that old saying attributed to Jay Chiat, "Good enough is not good enough"? It holds a very special meaning to me because my first assignment in advertising school was to hand-draw Mr. Chiat's belief in Franklin Gothic Heavy. The wisdom of my professor in using that statement as our first assignment is now evident to me. He was beginning our education about this industry with a doctrine to believe in and to practice from that point forward. The statement engrained in us was that being good was the equivalent to failure. If we were to perform at our highest level, we had to have a disdain for what most see as success.

Still, the assignment didn't prepare any of us for the real world. In reality, the majority of those in our industry believe good enough is good enough and that there is little choice but to settle for good work.

I hear those in advertising lament that if we were doctors and our clients were patients, they'd take our recommendations more seriously. Ask a doctor if his patients listen to him. Some do, but more don't. His patients know they shouldn't be eating salt because of their blood pressure and that they should exercise and that they shouldn't smoke, but they keep doing things the way they always have. A patient knows the doctor is right -- but it's just not a good time to take his or her advice.

Sound familiar?

And we, like doctors, shouldn't stop giving the right treatment even when patients ignore it. We must continue to advise our clients to do what is best for their brands. We shouldn't settle for good. Good will eventually kill a brand.

Good is average, average is expected and thus overlooked and forgotten. Most agencies do good work, and most agencies die. So do careers. So if you're an agency owner or just a soldier, you shouldn't settle for death.

It's easy to blame clients for the quality of the work we produce, but honestly most of the time it is entirely our fault. Many times we replace true brand integration with techniques and devices. A brand is not a tag line or a color palette or a design grid, yet so many times, that is what agencies propose as a cure for their client's branding woes.

There are times when a client inevitably asks their agency to "crank" something out. This can be frustrating when you are trying to do better than "good" work. So what do you do when there isn't enough time? Modify the process you use to do great work -- it's better than no process at all. It's better than just asking, "What would you like the ad to say?" The point is to apply your best efforts even in the worst circumstances.

I remember re-doing that typography assignment over and over, trying to perfect it. I never did do it very well. I don't think it was even good compared to many of my classmates' efforts. But I learned the meaning of those words and they have made my career much more rewarding than I could have imagined. I don't think I've reached the level of work I can accomplish. I'm still trying to be better than good. If it weren't for that first assignment, I'm not sure I would have kept that goal so clearly in sight.
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