ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Problem with Not Demanding Excellence

In my book, Leading and Managing a Global Workforce there is a chapter about the tyranny of pleasantness – going along to get along. It’s so dangerous and often leads to agreeing to take action that you know is wrong – just so that you don’t look different.

We emphasize teams and consensus so much that we’ve created an environment in which people are afraid to stick out. I love a quote from former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She described consensus as the process of “abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies…something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.”

This reminds me of my definition of compromise. She likes black, he likes white so they get gray – and neither is happy.

People who need to be liked, who want to be one of the gang, are often the same people who are afraid to be critical and to demand excellence from others. Those who do demand it are often called names. I can recall both Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand being vilified because they paid attention to every tiny detail involved with their performances. Ditto Michael Jackson, I think.

So, I have to share one of my favorite poems:

Aspiring to Excellence is a Pretty Good Idea
by Charles Osgood

There once was a pretty good student,
Who sat in a pretty good class,”
And was taught by a pretty good teacher,
Who always let pretty good pass.

He wasn’t terrific at reading,
He wasn’t a whiz-bang at math.
But for him education was leading
Straight down a pretty good path.

He didn’t find school too exciting,
But he wanted to do pretty well,
And he did have some trouble with writing,
And nobody taught him to spell.

When doing arithmetic problems,
Pretty good was regarded as fine.
Five plus five needn’t always add up to be ten,
A pretty good answer was nine.

The pretty good class that he sat in,
Was part of a pretty good school.
And the student was not an exception,
On the contrary, he was the rule.

The pretty good school that he went to
Was there in a pretty good town.
And nobody there seemed to notice
He could not tell a verb from a noun.

The pretty good student in fact
Was part of a pretty good mob
And the first time he knew what he lacked
Was when he looked for a pretty good job.

It was then, when he sought a position,
He discovered that life could be tough.
And he soon had a sneaky suspicion
Pretty good might not be good enough.

The pretty good town in our story
Was part of a pretty good state,
Which had pretty good aspirations,
And prayed for a pretty good fate.

There once was a pretty good nation,
Pretty proud of the greatness it had,
Which learned must too late,
If you want to be great,
Pretty good is, in fact, pretty bad.


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