Podcast: The tyranny of excellence

Update cue twilight zone theme. Interesting coincidence here’s Hugh‘s cartoon of the day:

Viv McWaters and I are developing a workshop called Crumbs! We look at how creativity is not about big ideas and sudden leaps of insight. It’s much more incremental, and involves closer attention to the detail of the present and how we relate to it.

We’ve decided the tyranny of excellence is one of the things that can get in the way of collaboration and creativity.

There may be contexts, like manufacturing, where the pursuit of perfection and processes like Six Sigma can be effective. But when you get humans involved, it all becomes more complex. Then a lot of striving for excellence is counterproductive. In fact, the demand for excellence is often a code for “do it my way”, and its pursuit is quite destructive to working relationships.

Viv and I recorded a podcast to expore this with our friend David Robinson. David’s a theatre director who now works with with organisations on managing diversity.

It’s definitely not an excellent podcast… and it did get me thinking some more about the topic.

Click to Listen Download the Podcast (25m, 23.5 MB)

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Show notes

This isn’t a transcript, just a rough guide…

0.00 Introductions

0.20 David: improv theatre notion of putting down your clever and picking up your ordinary. The things people judge as their most ordinary is the source of their greatest gift.

1.30 D talks about the notion of the anit-hero inside our head, the criticial voice, and how it’s polarised with the hero, the part that wants perfection. The search for perfection creates this enormous monster in our inner dialogue that yaps at us all the time.

3.20 Johnnie: Allowing ourselves to be ordinary can make it easier for people to have a relationship with us.

4.10 D talks about Parker Palmer‘s distinction – in his book The Courage to Teach – between being an expert and having a real engagement with a subject. Being expert locks people out. The idea of mastery, doing what you do to get better at it, never assuming that you know it all.

5.20 D reflecting on the relationships we create with others or ourselves when practicising. So being ordinary is not a diminishment at all; it’s a place of presence.

6.10 J: The distinction between advocacy and enquiry. Being excellent links to advocacy; enquiry, living with questions, allows more relationship. The “In Search of Excellence” myth.

7.20 J: There can be more surprises when we allow ourselves to really notice what’s going on than when we’re trying to be remarkable.

8.10 D: Cult of excellence comes from industrial age thinking, a factory model. Need now is to show up with what we bring and not just as consumers with what we demand.

9.40 D: excellence is an arrival word, sets our a place to get to; mastery is a process word – you never get there, you continually work on improvement. You don’t become masterful if you’re trying to be clever.

10.40 Viv on the pressure created by the urge to be perfect and how it gets us stuck. Why do people resist just trying things and making mistakes?

11.50 D: the education system reinforces the idea that there is an answer and it is outside of me somewhere. If trainers are expected to get perfect scores in sessions this negates the power of the work. Getting to places of discomfort is important.

13.40 V: Testing and measuring in education and the expectation that teachers, faciltators, the person at the front of the room has the answers and will be liked.

15.30 V: Facilitator as disruptor, asking awkward questions.

16.00 J: Organisations have this idea the everyone should be aligned as if they are all the same. Groups should experience friction and discomfort.

17.30 D: We brief clients to expect disturbance.

18.10 D: Collaboration isn’t about easy agreement nor is it always about voices being equal

18.50 V: Sometimes we’re asked to generate consensus when actually one person is going to make the decision.

19.30 D: You need obstacles to make stories move forward. Red Riding Hood needs the wolf. Hobbies are all about creating obstacles, it’s the obstacle that creates the engagement.

20.55 J: What often marks our a satisfying group… is not that everything is solved, but that there’s a willingness to go on together. Perils of neat looking pseudo-agreements and “commitment ceremonies”.

22.00 J: Some of the best Open Spaces end where people aren’t that clear what has been achieved but do sense that something useful has happened. They suspend the requirement for a neat and tidy ending in favour of a willingness to live with ambiguity and carry on.

23.10 D talks about the permitted messiness of Open Space.

23.40 V: the importance of valuing relationships instead of trying to be someone we’re not.

24.20 J offers a suspiciously neat and tidy closing comment.

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