The best comeback to “We tried that once.”

“We tried that once.” It’s like the ultimate small town insult to your big ideas. 

My friend Deb Brown has the best comeback. She always answers with, “Great! What did you learn?” 

“We already tried that” often comes off as a personal attack. “You’re too stupid to realize we already tried that.” 

The reality is more of a reflection of failure. No one likes to fail. So it’s natural to not want to repeat mistakes. That’s actually good, even if the motives of the person weren’t all that pure. 

Things aren’t the same now. And your idea is almost certainly different in some ways than the one they tried. And you have the benefit of their experiences. 

Usually, the anti-everything people mean “We tried that once” as a conversation killer. They want to kill your idea right now. The best answer is to make it a conversation starter. 

Use this approach. 
1. Reply with, “Great! What did you learn?” 
2. Ask questions that draw out the differences of the two ideas (the one that was tried, and the one you’re talking about.)
3. Ask questions that draw out the differences of conditions. 

Here’s a slightly hypothetical example, based on a real experience: 

“I think Main Street would be a great benefit for our town.” 

“We tried that once. It didn’t work. No one had money to work on improving downtown buildings, so it was a waste of time.” 

“Great! What else did you learn? Having such small budgets, you must have learned about Design and improving buildings on a small budget. What can you remember about that? Do you remember working on the other parts of the Four Point Approach? Did you work on Promotion, Organization or Economic Restructuring back then? What did you learn from those? The downtown businesses have changed a lot since then. We have an arts gallery, the church rec center, the school board office, lots of things are different. Even the grocery store has changed. And that was before the area was designated an arts and entertainment district and had a development plan with the city and other partners. How do you think that would have made things different when you tried Main Street before?” 

(The “we tried that once” in this example actually came from a newspaper publisher’s weekly column. I should have written a letter to the editor with these questions. I still may!) 

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Keep shaping the future of your community,


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