On risking it all to be the best.
September 14, 2007 by Olivier Blanchard
On being remarkable, from Seth Godin’s “Is Good Enough Enough” post (via metacool):
First, it would require significant risk-taking. Which would include the risk of failure and the risk of getting fired (omg!). Can you and your team handle that? If not, might as well admit it and settle for good enough. But if you’re settling, don’t sit around wishing for results beyond what you’ve been getting.
Second, it would mean that every single time you set out to be remarkable, you’d have to raise the bar and start over. It’s exhausting.
Third, it means that the boss and the boss’s boss are unlikely to give you much cover. Are you okay with that?
Yep, striving to be the best is hard. It’s risky. And it’s a lot of work.
Which is why it isn’t for everyone: Special Forces operators. Superstars. Neurosurgeons. Olympic Athletes. Marketing superstars. First responders. Novelists. Race car drivers. Fighter pilots. Designers. Architects. Trial lawyers. World-renowned chefs. Whatever the discipline, you either get to be the very best… or you don’t. In the immortal words of… somebody:
“We’re Number One. Everyone else is Number Two.”
There you have it. Either you are the best, or you aren’t.
Success at the very top level never comes easily. It comes with more hard work and sacrifice than everyone else is willing to put in… and also with a certain measure of risk that goes beyond what the average person is comfortable with.
You don’t get to win the Superbowl without taking some serious chances. You don’t get to win Ironman Hawaii without putting everything on the line. You don’t get to become Apple, Microsoft, BMW, Canon, Cervelo, Starbucks or HBO without being willing to take chances with design, innovation, format, hiring practices, marketing, or something. You might have to stand up to an obtuse CEO. You might have to fight to defend a design or a programming decision. You might have to look your boss in the eye and tell him “you know what, if you don’t let me do this right, you can have my resignation.” You might have to eat crow, or brush yourself off and try again if your big idea doesn’t quite turn out as well as you thought.
Following the IDEO
prototyping model, you have to be willing to fail often in order to succeed faster. In a society that rewards immediate success and frowns heavily on failure, it takes courage to follow a methodology that embraces failure as a learning tool. Yet, believe me when I tell you that learning how a thing fails teaches you more about that thing than learning how it works. This is as true in the world of product design, as it is in the world of customer service, copywriting, military strategy or the culinary arts. Every manager I have ever met who didn’t understand this basic fact of life suffered the consequences of their reluctance to cover all the angles and be prepared for the worst.
Being risk-adverse works well if you don’t mind being part of the soft middle. If you don’t mind being just another company in a sea of unremarkable companies just like yours. If you don’t mind being just another applicant armed with a clone of a clone of a clone of a resume.
If you have your eye on being great
, however… eh, get ready to push waaaaaaaay past your comfort zone in every conceivable way. It’s a hard road, but a worthwile one.
Have a great weekend, everyone. 😉