The Tyranny of Excellence

I liked Tim Kastelle’s recent post of the value of gumption in innovation. It’s a rich topic but I’d summarise my sense of gumption as the capacity to keep going in the face of adversity imperfection and setbacks. It’s about accepting, and perhaps transcending, failure but it’s not a denial of it.

Another way to think of this is to separate failure from floundering. We flounder when we over-react or repress failure.

So organisations flounder if they set up procedures and practices that appear to be about excellence but are more about being in denial of our variability and complexity as human beings. Efforts to make meetings a guaranteed success quite often just lead to the repression of doubt or criticism.

As you probably know, I’m as massive fan of improvisation theatre and its exercises. They provide a constant practice in noticing things aren’t working but carrying on. We can learn from the friction but we don’t delude ourselves it won’t be there.

The risk is that we set impossible standards for ourselves and then get demoralised by not reaching them. The demand for perfection makes us hypercriticial and we fail to appreciate what we are actually achieving. When we lose that sense of reality, ironically, we’re more likely to fail or perhaps to give up altogether.

This is what Viv and I call the Tyranny of Excellence, illustrated above.

And Viv explores it more here.

2 thoughts on “The Tyranny of Excellence

  1. dwighttowers

    love the failure/floundering distinction.

    Somewhere John Dewey, the american educational theorist,says the crucial thing is not to avoid mistakes, but to make sure they happen in such a way that they can be useful learning opportunities….

    But we are rewarded for not making (which means covering up!) mistakes. And then we get scared of making them and….

    Me, I’m a “push the fucker out the door. Next!!” kinda guy. But don’t always systematically reflect/post-mortem. I try to sub-contract that out, as the owner of this very blog knows. 🙂


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