A couple of days ago, in the middle of a long stretch of production work, we were reminded of a fact that gets really easy to ignore: the smallest projects can be great.

Everyone is familiar with the scenario — you got a ton of stuff to do, you’re crushing it to try and create some space for the next big project, and you get a request for a seemingly pedestrian piece. Most people’s gut reaction is, “let’s knock it out.” Often times, in the creative field, something that isn’t going to require a lot of thought is a gift. You can just do it. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, it’s not a game changer, it’s just a letter to some members of a credit union describing how to destroy their card because the printer made them the wrong color. Thirty minutes, an hour, tops. Done and done.

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Above: Just do it. Make your project go away.

Enter one of the fundamental traits of being good at anything: Self Imposed Standards of Excellence. If you’re truly good at what you do, mediocrity is a hard pill to swallow. As a matter of fact, the most brutal clients to deal with, the ones no one wants, are the ones who don’t want good. They want done. They want fast and they want cheap. For those who have the aforementioned standards, these tyrants generate levels of anxiety that are completely out of sync with the scope of their projects, and what we perceive as the upside. These clients train us to ignore our standards and that, my friends, is dangerous. Because, if you start down this slippery slope, you begin to forget:

(Almost) Everything is an opportunity.

This is not the easiest thing to remember over the course of the day to day grind. When you dedicate yourself to doing something for a living, you end up doing a lot of it. That’s how it works. And, under those circumstances, you can forget that (almost) every project has the potential to be great. Had we not checked ourselves prior to cranking out the “destroy your card” letter for Listerhill, we definitely would not have done this:

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Above: The Listerhill Destroy Letter

And, then, without a doubt, there is no way we would have won CUNA’s Diamond Award. And no way in hell it happens at all without excellent clients that challenge us and want the same thing we do: to be the best we can be.

Thanks, Listerhillionaires, for reminding us that (almost) everything is an opportunity and for working with us to maintain our high standards for SET, which, for this reason, was also awarded CUNA Diamond for “rival(ing) any independent weekly newspaper in America — both in terms of content and design.”

If you’re phoning it in, you might as well hang it up.