Archive | February, 2012

Perfection and the Death of Deadlines

28 Feb

In the 90’s Chiat/Day had a slogan “Good Enough Is Not Enough.”

Their mission was delivering excellence.

Today everyone commits to delivering 110%.

Lately, I overheard someone promising to give 150%.

I wondered if they had a Mini-Me stashed around the corner waiting to be unleashed once the deal was done.

{50% Free Bonus!}

The other day during a final round of tweaks, I joked with a client “I’m a perfectionist – ninety five percent!”

Then later, I thought there may be something to it.

The ascent of online media has led to the decline of fixed deadlines and a commensurate growth in deadline creep.

When you can go live with a single click, a day here and there isn’t usually as important as getting it “right”.

But just how can you get it right unless it’s live and interactive?

I’m pretty sure you can’t.

You can guestimate, theorize, opine, second-guess and deconstruct.

But you’ll learn more from a week of real-time, real-space feedback than a year of working without it.

Bounce rates and click-throughs are the only opinions that really count.

Online, “Good Enough” is good enough – at least as a place to start.

Because when you can make changes with a couple of clicks, the temptation is to tinker with things forever.

On the surface this is positive, continual improvement being a holy grail of business, sports, personal development and just about any aspect of modern life.

The flip side is that if nothing’s ever finished, if all work is work in progress, then when and maybe even how do we say: Enough!

Because what we think of as examples of perfection, say the Eiffel Tower or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were both deemed finished at some point.

Someone had the confidence to say: Done!

And after that point changes essentially became impossible.

It’s not like Michelangelo or Gustave Eiffel could say, “I need to tweak it a bit lads, put the scaffold back up.”

There is a school of philosophy that tells us perfection is unattainable.

Even a seemingly perfect snowflake isn’t perfect.

{Imperfection}

Pop it under an electron microscope and you expose its lack of symmetry.

Another school of philosophy tells us it’s these very imperfections that constitute perfection.

My experience suggests that there is a sort of mirage-like quality to perfection.

The closer you get to it, the more elusive it becomes and the last 5% is the most elusive of all.

If you’re not careful, the quest for it can lead to a type of paralysis.

And most of the time you don’t need it anyway.

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You Can Take the Boy out of Advertising, but…

14 Feb

In London, in 1938, there was an agency called Dorland’s where a young man named Eric, had been employed for two years as a Trainee Account Executive.

In September of that year, the agency lost a major account and as agencies do when a major piece of business walks, they started laying off staff.

Eric fully expected to be fired — and when he wasn’t, he felt strangely disappointed.

So he did what disappointed young men have done since time immemorial.

He went to sea.

And not just on any old tub, he signed papers as an apprentice on a windjammer, with the Conradesque name of Moshulu.

At the time, Moshulu was one of thirteen vessels still powered entirely by sail, engaged in the South Australian grain trade.

Owned by Swedish owners and governed by Finnish maritime law, Moshulu’s working practices were rather traditional.

Hence, upon boarding the ship in Belfast’s York Dock, Eric was simply ordered “Op the rigging” and told to keep going.

When he could go no further, he found himself clutching the cap of the main mast, 198 feet above the keel.

{Moshulu, September 1938}

Having proved his head for heights, Eric was given a berth in the Fo’castle and Moshulu set sail.

So began the shipboard adventures of a raw boy of 18 learning the trade of an Ordinary Seaman.

Three months later…Moshulu put in at Port Victoria, South Australia.

Once bargains had been struck and contracts drawn up, she was loaded with 4,875 tons of grain.

The cargo was made up of 59,000 sacks which were manhandled into ketches at dockside, ferried to Moshulu and manually loaded into the ship’s holds.

This backbreaking work took a month.

On March 11, 1938 Moshulu set sail on the return leg.

91 days later she was lying off the entrance to Queensland Harbour in Ireland.

The crew didn’t know it, but they had won the last grain race.

In 1956 Eric Newby published a wonderful book about the voyage aptly called: The Last Grain Race.

Apt it may be, but not accurate.

The title is simply untrue.

It was not the last grain race.

It was not even the penultimate grain race.

It was actually the second to last grain race.

Consciously or not, Eric had learnt something from his time at Dorland’s.

Because, what kind of title would The Second to Last Grain Race, or Almost The Last Grain Race have made?

But he understood the value of smart positioning.

So The Last Grain Race it was.

And the book was a hit.

It launched Eric Newby’s career as a travel writer.

It’s still in print today.

And you can’t argue with that.