Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Collaborators in Excellence Can Be Hard to Find

I am fortunate to have had several different employment opportunities over the past sixteen years. I have worked for production companies, broadcast companies, tech start-ups, a Fortune 500 corporation and a couple of digital creative studios. Despite the differences from one organization to another, some things are very consistent. One that has always had my focus is excellence, or even just the simple desire to do your best and really make a supreme effort to be better than the rest of the market.

It is always interesting to see how people either get after excellence, kind of try to be better than some, or simply do what they think is "just enough" and are complacent to secure mediocrity. Regardless of where the masses fall in this spectrum one thing has been readily apparent in all of my experiences at different organizations, and that is excellence is becoming an increasingly rare commodity. It seems that many many professionals are really okay with doing just enough to get by, or simply do all that can be done without friction and to heck with working toward excellence. What do I mean by friction? Friction could be internal interpersonal static within a corporate culture, it could be the risk of losing a bonus, or perhaps push back on trying to alter the status quo in the search for a better result or product, or it could even be a personal relationship that encourages less focus on anything other than that relationship. Whatever the cause for the friction, it seems a lot of professionals have no desire to work through these barriers to deliver better, more or even a "best." Many have not wanted to stick their neck out. I don't think this a new phenomenon.

Anyone who works in a creative services industry has experienced this. Probably more than most. To add to the challenge, creative work is subjective, so ceilings and floors often get interchanged. An easy example? No doubt the term "brand standards" have been used for decades to bring excellent work back down to mediocrity, all in the name of consistency aka uniformity. Many times brand standards are an extremely valid and useful platform. In some instances however, I believe,  it is merely an excuse to shelter individuals and/or organizations from the work required and potential friction that comes with moving toward excellence. The saddest part about this infectious mediocrity is that it spreads like a virus. Don't believe me? Turn on your television and log how many pieces of media you believe are truly excellent, that move you, versus the rest that don't. Get online and perform the same exercise. Walk through any large retailer and perform the same exercise using consumer products as the focus. In those instances what is the ratio between what you deem as truly excellent versus just okay? In search of this excellence the service provider is quite often put in a tough spot. How much do you push for excellence? If it is not accepted, when and how do you back off? What service provider wants to lose a client? Who wants to die on the hill? Get in line, do what is required and live to fight for a better product, service or design another day.

On the flip side, when the reach toward excellence is accepted and embraced, that is the sweet spot where great collaboration, work, and market leaders emerge. Yes, it can be more stressful and difficult in the short term because it takes a lot more energy to accomplish, there will inevitably be those that fight it, more friction, and the time required to achieve is greater, however, in the long term the payoff is worth it.

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