Anything Worth Doing

For years (3 in one industry and 9 in another), I worked side by side – even partnered – with a very wise businessman: two Master’s degrees from Columbia, a serial entrepreneur, and a sensible economist. One day, he said something that made every hair on the back of my neck stand up. It really bothered me. In fact, it flew in the face of everything I held dear.

“Anything worth doing,” he said, “is worth doing badly.” That’s right. Not ‘anything worth doing is worth doing right,’ which had always been my work mantra, but “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

I cringed. “Have you lost your mind,” I asked? We were running a small-but-very-successful advertising agency, with three art directors and a couple of suits: about 15 of us, in total. We had built a reputation for creative, consistent, accurate, and timely work. “Badly” was not in my vocabulary.

But Carl was usually right, so I asked him to explain.

I had been working on a self-promotion brochure, a concept piece, the type of work that agencies often enter in regional award contests, to prove their worth in the eyes of their peers. What we had, so far, was good – It was probably very good – but it wasn’t perfect. And I was laboring over perfection. “Just get it out there,” Carl said; “It isn’t doing us any good in here, and the longer you wait, seeking perfection, the more work we will lose to our competitors, who are already out there.”

Of course, he was talking about time to market, about windows of opportunity, and about my silly quest for the ideal (at the expense of the “good enough”).

Carl was right. And in the years since I learned that lesson, I’ve seen this mistake countless times, both with clients and with coworkers.

Years later, Nike would say, “Just do it.” Same message.

Pursuit of perfection can be an excuse for not making progress. Just do it. Get it out there. Start competing. You can make adjustments along the way.