September 18, 2007

Musing on mediocrity

I often wonder why, in the midst of working with a brilliant team on a beloved & respected product in a company that’s doing better than ever, I’m kind of a miserable bastard.  I get this insane privilege, and yet no matter how full the glass, I see only the flaws, only the things that could and should and must be made better.

I found a little solace in Paul Arden’s It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be.  Maybe, if you’re like me, you will, too:

Why do we strive for excellence when mediocrity is required?

There is little demand in the commercial world for excellence.  There is much, much bigger demand for mediocrity.

The truth is, I’m glad it’s this way.

Imagine a world where all clients were wonderful, where we could produce whatever we felt like with no restrictions, with everybody having freedom to produce all their fantasies unfettered by tedious clients.

What would we do?

We would react against it, saying, “Isn’t this boring.  How can we be dull?  Let’s do it badly, let’s make it ugly, and let’s make it really cheaply.”

That’s the nature of the creative person.  All creative people need something to rebel against.  It’s what gives their lives excitement, and it’s creative people who make the clients’ lives exciting.

 

Or, as George Bernard Shaw succinctly put it:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. All progress, therefore, depends upon the unreasonable man.

Keep your head up,
J.

Posted by John Nack at 8:46 PM on September 18, 2007

Comments

  • Adolfo Rozenfeld — 8:33 PM on September 18, 2007

    Wow, John, would you believe I got this very book when we went to the States this year?
    I couldn’t help being curious when I saw it, and at $10 or something… :)
    What a great book.
    With a somewhat similar tone, I also liked a PDF manifesto by Hugh MacLeod called “How to be Creative”. Really good!
    http://www.changethis.com/6.HowToBeCreative
    And while we’re at it, how not to recommend Alan Fletcher’s “The Art of Looking Sideways”
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Art-Looking-Sideways-Alan-Fletcher/dp/0714834491
    [Great links, Adolfo--thanks. --J.]

  • Carsten — 2:17 AM on September 19, 2007

    “Why do we strive for excellence when mediocrity is required?”
    If we would strive mediocrity the result might be worse. So we need to strive for excellence, because only this way things can be reduced to mediocrity ;-)

  • jimhere — 5:51 AM on September 19, 2007

    I’m glad to see you think about the whole spectrum of the project. Sometimes your writing is so darn jolly that I forget that you’re actually a real guy.
    [I'm actually a paranoid android, but don't blow my cover, yo. --J.]

  • Klaus Nordby — 1:05 PM on September 19, 2007

    John, I very much disagree with these ideas. The essence of a truly creative person is not a knee-jerk contrarianism — which is what Arden’s and Shaw’s ideas amount to — but of first-hand, independent problem-solving. What other people think and believe should be irrelevant to a truly creative person.

  • Chad — 9:30 AM on September 20, 2007

    This sounds similar to something Pavarotti said – he didn’t like listening to his recordings, because he only heard all of the wrong notes, not everything he had done right.

  • Gervaise Davis — 5:38 PM on September 21, 2007

    John, great comments. I have spent my whole 75 year life fighting with this concept. Doing things poorly is just not satisfying. Doing things better each time is very satisfying. Keep it up.
    Gerry

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