“Good” is the enemy of “great,” and “close” is the enemy of “correct.” Your business strategy depends on this lesson.

A Movie Reference: Bare With Me

In one of our favorite movies, Whiplash, there’s a scene where the uber-intense jazz instructor (played by J.K. Simmons) gives his thoughts on the phrase “good job.” He recounts a story about the saxophonist Charlie Parker, and how he was nearly decapitated when an irate, veteran drummer hurled a cymbal at his head during a recording session. At the time, Parker was a starry-eyed up-and-comer, and the drummer was letting him know that his playing wasn’t good enough. And he needed a wake-up call. 

(Image: IMDb)

Instead of going home and crying, Parker used this to fuel his flame. He practiced, and practiced, and eventually unlocked a virtuosic talent. This new direction helped Parker become one of the most transcendent musicians of all time. 

The Lesson

The instructor then poses the question: What would have happened if the drummer let Charlie’s lackluster performance slide? If he said, “Hmmm that’s okay, Charlie. That was close enough. Good job.” Charlie would have spent his life wading through mediocrity, complacent with doing a good job on the saxophone, and the world would have never seen his genius.

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job,’” he says. 

Business Strategy

When it comes to business strategy, the equivalent of “good job” is “close.” Not on the bullseye, but close. Not particularly insightful, ownable or memorable, but close. A solid B+ effort. That’s okay. You’re close. Good job.

Getting “Close”

When building a brand, following your gut will get you close. Ballpark guesses will get you close. Hunches will get you close. But “close” gets you closer to the bottom than the top.

Just as “good” is the enemy of “great,” “close” is the enemy of “correct.”

It’s what keeps businesses from achieving greatness and becoming the Charlie Parker of their category. 

So if you think your company’s strategy is close, you don’t need a pat on the back. You need a cymbal hurled at your head. And we’d be happy to oblige.

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