What does it mean to say we did the best we could? For the most part, those who are saying it are saying it in the context of failure, personal or professional. Those in the midst of success rarely say we just did the best we could and look what happened. No, they are basking in the spoils of victory and the best they could is implied, circumstance notwithstanding. In sports, there is a clear delineation between winner and loser. No matter how valiant, losers do not get parades. They just get to say they did the best they could and it was not enough.
The issue I have with the dialogue is lack of humility. Almost never in business, especially creative business, is the “best we could” statement followed with the idea that there is more to learn, experience to be gleaned, improvement to be made, acceptance of the past as it is, yes, but determination to be better. This comes later – maybe. The moment asks us to understand we need never apologize for our limitations, but must always accept and be responsible for them. And yet, all too often, we do not.
So we did the best we could is the very justification of failure, the refusal to say, truly, no we did not do the best we could. We could have and should have done better. We will learn.
For creative business, the best we could is an illusion. The beauty of creation is that nobody knows what will happen in the end. Yes, incredible focus on the process of getting there is the best way to ensure a wonderful result. However, the result is always in question.
If the result falls flat for whatever reason, telling a client you did the best you could means nothing. You and your creative business are your client’s New Coke, their Edsel, their DeLorean.
What would the world be like if you decided to immediately own your flaws. Start with an authentic apology. Know that your process failed you. Your ability to fully understand your mission, your client’s vision, perhaps even the power of your own art, was amiss. For so many creative businesses, once the moment is past, it is over. If you missed the moment, you missed it. The only thing you can do is to try to make the moment next time.
It sucks to be the client who suffers a missed moment. Do not compound the injury with we did the best we could. You cannot fix it. Your only recourse is to offer empathy and the desire to improve. Let the rest lie. No refunds, future promises for discounted services if they come back. Leave the platitudes where they belong, shot dead in an alley. We tried, we could have done better, we will do better, we are sorry we could not have done better for you. Let it be enough.
Authentic humility, like authentic shame, is endearing. It is what all of us crave, your clients very much included. Failure is information as much as it is circumstance. The ability to know that you can and will get back up is the very definition of confidence, desire and determination to go forward when the power of inertia overwhelms.
Having confidence that your way and that of your creative business is the best way for your client should never presuppose that there is another, better way. If you are shown that you must find a new way, you will never get there if you start with we did the best we could. Of course, you thought you did, but you did not and, even if you did, it was not good enough. Who cares? The real question, the only one that matters, is how are you going to get better?