Is this the best you can do?

Henry Kissinger

Photo credit: flickr


Henry Kissinger was a highly prominent politician.

He was also known for being an uber-perfectionist, especially when it came to writing speeches.

He believed every single word in a speech counted, and didn’t consider one done until it was revised 20 times.

He also demanded the same level of perfection from his staff and colleagues.

Here’s the story of Ambassador Winston Lord handing Kissinger a report:

One oft-told tale about Kissinger…involved a report that Winston Lord had worked on for days.

After giving it to Kissinger, he got it back with the notation “Is this the best you can do?”

Lord rewrote and polished and finally resubmitted it; back it came with the same curt question.

After redrafting it one more time–and once again getting the same question from Kissinger–Lord snapped, “Damn it, yes, it’s the best I can do.”

To which Kissinger replied: “Fine, then I guess I’ll read it this time.”

From Walter Isaacson’s book “Kissinger: A Biography

I first heard this story 10 years ago when I was at a conference in Michigan and the lesson has stuck with me ever since.

I think we all inherently put self-inflicted psychological barriers on doing our best work. This is probably why some experienced body builders still need a training coach to keep pushing them to lift heavier .

But most times, those psychological barriers are fake. They can be broken, or at least raised to a higher level.

So the next time you’re doing work that matters, think of Kissinger’s face and words.