Why We Dare To Be Average!

Jim Collins offers his perspective in the opening line of his second book by stating, “Good is the enemy of great.”  He explains that we don’t have great government or great schools because we have good government and good schools.  Somehow good enough is good enough, I guess.  In researching and writing about peer advisory groups, I’ve talked to countless members who extol the virtues of their culture of accountability – implying that left to our own devices, most of us dare to be average and we are perfectly content in doing so.  Sadly, they’re right.  I’m sure you’re bristling at the mere suggestion, but ask yourself if you’re doing everything you can do to be at the top of your game every day.  If you’re like most people, the answer is a resounding “no.”

Joe Henderson who writes about running, tells us, and I’m paraphrasing, that it isn’t about doing anything super human; it’s about people doing the things anyone can do, but they just don’t.  Think about how powerful that is.  I spent some time meeting with Chris Brogan last week, who I regard as an amazing example of someone who combines his talent with a relentless work ethic and an unwavering commitment to excellence.   He dares for something much more.  Chris is dedicated to his work in a manner most of us are not, which is among the reasons he’s successful, and why we’ll be hearing much more from him for years to come.

But what really prompted this post for me was seeing Cirque du Soleil perform Ka` at the MGM Grand a few nights ago.  I didn’t know a great deal about the show until reading about it after the performance.  The LA Times review confirmed my belief that it “may be the most lavish production in the history of western theater.”   Of all the amazing live performances I’ve ever attended, I’ve never witnessed such a profound example of excellence.  I thought about how this amazing ensemble comes to work and performs this show twice a day, five days a week.   Then I considered the $220 million investment in the theater and the production and all the people who make it happen at such a high level each and every night.  The vision, creativity, teamwork, and flawless execution is in part a result of superb talent, but I would suggest it’s also largely because of people doing what anyone can do, except they actually do it!  Imagine a country where our government, our schools, and our businesses performed at this level.

Contrast Collins’ explanation of good being the enemy of great with the concept of perfectionism and the familiar quote from Voltaire translated literally as “The best is the enemy of good”  or more commonly expressed as ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good.”  The quote references the paralyzing effect of the pursuit of perfection. It’s where the hope to implement the perfect solution can result in no solution at all. So is good the enemy of great? Or is the pursuit of perfection the enemy of good?  Seems to me, they are two sides of the same coin.  Neither is an excuse for daring to be average.

So how will you dare to be more than average?  Start with a single act.  (This is what I’ll try to do).  Bring your A game to writing your next proposal or presentation and, when you think it’s finished, ask yourself how you can take it to the next level.  Do something simple, yet extraordinary for one of your customers.   Inspire an employee to improve upon his/her greatest talent, rather than address an irrelevant weakness.   There are a million things you can try.  See how it feels, enjoy the results, and just keep at it – each and every day.

Tell us how you will pursue what we’ll call the practice of Ka`?

Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Leo Bottary

Leo J. Bottary is an adjunct professor for two of Seton Hall University's graduate level programs in strategic communication and leadership.  Leo has enjoyed a 25-year career counseling leaders in the areas of strategic comm…

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  1. Leo; I will go here with you. So, the goal is to take small steps every day to improve? I would love to explore what those steps might be. I would think that it takes much more than willing to be great to be great. And how do we handle all of the mundane that keeps the business owner mired? Lots of things to think about here.

  2. Kami, thanks for your comment.  Former HBS professor and consultant David Maister writes, “You can’t achieve a competitive differentiation through things you do reasonably well most of the time.”  It doesn’t matter whether one leads a small company or a large one.  I realize it may be idealistic, but when you leave a Cirque du Soleil performance, it begs the question of what the world might be like if people pursued such a high level of excellence in all aspects of their life.  My suggestion for those interested is to start small so as not to overwhelm – to train ourselves to develop the mindset that eventually raises our game from good enough to excellent. Why not?  I offered a few suggestions of what those small things might be. Would love to hear more!

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