Do Your Worst

My daughter is taking swimming lessons. She’s three. It hasn’t been going well. Tears. Fear about putting her face in the water. Dread about going to the next class. I found myself telling her the age old wisdom of “Do Your Best”, but I’m curious if that isn’t very good advice at all…

The Simpsons is one of the most successful sitcoms and animated shows in history running 29 seasons so far. Each episode takes eight-to-nine months to create! That means many teams and people need to be involved to get an entire season manufactured.

But this isn’t a story about The Simpsons. It’s about South Park.

The most surprising thing to me about South Park is that a single episode takes 6 days. Sometimes even less. Of course the animation isn’t as sophisticated as The Simpsons. And I’m sure some would argue the writing isn’t either. But South Park has been going on 21 seasons with 2 more already under contract and includes its own successful spin-off games, merchandise and movie.

Couldn’t Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, use more time to make the episodes better? In a wonderful short documentary about how South Park is made, Trey Parker let’s us know:

I always feel like, “wow, I wish I had another day with this show.” That’s the reason that there’s so many episodes of South Park we’re able to get done, is ’cause there just is a deadline, and you can’t keep going, ’cause there would be so many shows that I’m like, “no, no, it’s not ready yet. Not ready yet.” And I would have spent four weeks on one show. All you do is start second-guessing yourself and rewriting stuff, and it gets over-thought, and it would have been 5% better.

Sure, this is a lesson about how important deadlines are. They force you to keep shipping. You aren’t given a chance to overthink anything.

But I think it’s a bigger lesson in getting stuck in a rut because we fear we could do better. Trey Parker and Matt Stone know these South Park episodes can be better. It isn’t their best. But will it make a material difference if they do more to it? No, probably not.

The pilot episode wasn’t even as sophisticated as you see today. They were made with paper cutouts and stop motion animation. I’m sure in Trey and Matt’s heads, they were better than this. But they published just to get something into the world and avoid getting stuck in obscurity.

It’s how this YouTube channel of mine has gone ( I’m up to about 2500 subscribers watching me talk about business, marketing, design, and just getting through life on a daily basis. But I hesitated way too long to get even the first episode in the tank. I knew I could do a much better job than filming on my phone with crappy lighting, so I spent an inordinate amount of time researching lighting solutions, camera gear, storyboarding.

I finally regained my sanity and just filmed on a camera phone in my bedroom. The result looks like absolute garbage. I knew it should have been better. But what difference would it have made. Ship it. It’ll get better with time. And it has. Today’s videos are drastically different than my freshman efforts.

I see this all playing out with my daughter. She has this idea of being a great swimmer. She sees her best friend swimming already and then beats herself up that she can’t do it, to the point where she didn’t even want to get in the pool anymore because she couldn’t match her friend.

But we kept encouraging. Just get in the pool. It’s ok if you don’t do what your friend does. Just dip your face in, even if it’s just one second. Of course she quickly got a lot better. She’s burying her face in now for 12 seconds and constantly excited to practice and return to swimming class.

But it didn’t start with her best or what she thought should be “her best”. It started with getting comfortable doing her worst.

When Trey completes the latest episode in the South Park documentary, he let’s us know his thoughts on its quality, which happens to be the same feeling he has every single week as they publish their work:

I feel like it’s the worst episode we’ve ever done.

P.S. You should also follow me on YouTube: where I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life. And if you need a zero-learning-curve system to track leads and manage follow-ups, try Highrise.