Good is the enemy of Great

I recently re-read “Good to Great” the classic business book by Jim Collins on why some businesses make the jump to greatness and why others don’t. One of the central themes that runs through the book is that good is the enemy of great. I thought I’d explore why I believe this statement holds true for creative ideas and show how truly great ideas can perpetuate.

The premise of the theme is that once we’ve achieved a good result we stop, we settle for OK rather than persevering to achieve greatness. But how do you know which are the great ideas and which are purely good ones? I love the creative process, I enjoy coming up with new and exciting ideas, but there’s an art to choosing the right idea, and it’s important to remember that the idea isn’t the execution. All too often I’ve seen designers stumbling over the question “but why?” not being able to give a thought through reply other than “…because it looks good”. Anyone working for me gets short shrift if I receive that answer.

The college ‘crit’

I remember back in my college days standing in front of a panel of tutors and justifying my project. The crit as they were called was a baptism of fire into the world of the back-story, the narrative that’s helped you arrive at your final solution. And yet I’m constantly amazed nowadays at the lack of thought that’s put into probably the most important part of the creative process.

Now I admit at college there was a high degree of tripe spoken, regurgitated drivel spouted off with an ironic smug self-importance. However the back-story is everything. It’s the kernel of your idea, it highlights the angle from which you’ve approached the problem, why things look the way they do and how the brief has been answered. Your story gives credence to your solution, it underlines the relevance and is a key part of the engagement factor.

Telling the good from the great

So how do you know if you’re idea is just good or if it’s great? Well that’s a tricky one, firstly we make sure that the idea answers the brief (believe me when I tell you not all agencies are as diligent as this!), and next when we’re working on a project we usually know if we’re onto a winner when we start saying “yes, and…” That means the premise of the idea is solid and that it can be easily adapted to other mediums or situations. These “yes, and…” ideas are the ones that can easily be turned into integrated campaigns. These are the ideas that can stand up to being thrown a curve-ball. If your idea can be easily adapted to various situations without losing it’s core message, then that’s a pretty good foundation. Clever copywriting and imaginative creative solutions can then be woven into the mix to bring the idea to life, but strip these away and it’s the idea that’s king.

Don’t settle for good

Settling for a good idea is an easy trap to fall into. I believe that in many instances the problem manifests itself right at the start of the task, people give themselves a very small check-list of criteria that something needs to achieve and therefore it’s really easy to meet the criteria. But in setting easy targets they’re cheating themselves, their criteria is often woolly and open to misinterpretation. When you have a lot of things on your to-do list, plumping for an idea that seems to fit the bill can be an appealing prospect. But in the long-run it’s a false economy and truly great ideas can perpetuate long after the initial requirements. These perpetuating ideas help to reinforce brandsages in the eye of the consumer and ultimately increase the brands equity.

A good analogy that I often come across is this: Now we all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, so imagine that we need to find an illustration to help with the overall design of a presentation. No problems there, however it’s what happens next where the problem comes. They look at the copy and say “hey they’re talking about Christmas, what we need is a picture of a Christmas tree” and they duly go off to Google Images, look for an image of a Christmas tree and hey presto, that’s another task ticked off the list. However what they failed to notice was that the whole piece was about the anticipation of Christmas, and what they should have been looking for was a small child hiding under the covers with a silhouette of Santa Claus appearing around the bedroom door. You see how the first answered a very small brief but how the second still answered the brief but did so much more even managing to conjure emotion. Not to mention the fact that the image that was found in the first example is probably low resolution and copyright protected (but that’s a whole other story!)

I guess what I’m saying is think before you leap. See the whole picture and don’t settle for second best.

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