One of the most dangerous and common barriers to new initiatives, especially in a professional services context, is “we tried that once.”

It’s a common refrain – somebody new enters with great ideas for how to improve marketing or sales. For instance, they might suggest a new research project, or inviting clients and prospects to a breakfast. And when it’s proposed, you hear the same refrain: “we tried that once, but it never really went anywhere.” Of course, when you dig deeper, what you learn is that it was never really tried at all. For instance, they did the research, but never followed up by setting meetings with clients. Or they tried to host a breakfast, but never invited anyone.

In all of these situations, the issue is not with the idea. The basic ideas are sound, and tend to carry across industries. Instead, the problem is with the execution. And this is the challenge – it’s very hard to convince the firm that botched the execution in the first place that they need to try again with an idea they’ve already failed at. First, because most people don’t see their own culpability in why the idea didn’t work, they just assume the idea is bad. And second, unless something has changed in management or motivation, it’s likely that the same execution problems will crop up again.

The truth is that there isn’t a secret list of tricks that competitors are using. The best firms haven’t figured out a magic formula. The toolkit to grow your business is the same across firms and it’s well known. But executing it is really hard, and mastering execution is how successful firms differentiate themselves.