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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Good to Great to Excellence

Is good the enemy of great?  Or is great the enemy of excellence?

In his book From Good to Great Jim Collins makes the point that settling for good enough can prevent a company from becoming great. We major in too many minor things. Collins encourages companies to find the one thing that they can be great at, and focus on it in a disciplined way.  I believe he is right as far as organizations go.  Our personal life might be a little different.

The Greek word for excellence is arete.   While we live in an era of specialization and “only first place matters”, the Greek understanding was different.  For them excellence had to do with well roundedness.  David Hawkinson writes, “The ideal of arete for a human is not to be the best at one thing, but to give oneself to many things—to be an ‘all-rounder’.”

What does it mean to be in an all-rounder? I am in a month where my work life is involving more travel and therefore more time away from home.  Time with the family and volunteer efforts, not to mention my exercise “discipline” is taking a hit.  Earlier this fall my wife needed to spend a week at her parents. That week my work was the thing that didn’t get the attention it needed. When I focus on a volunteer effort, it usually means missing something else.   Perfect balance is nonexistent in my life.

Taking the Greek idea of arete and running with it (but not in a toga), I would say that excellence requires paying attention to my life.  Noticing when I am out of balance or my actions are not consistent with what I say is important.  Arete requires pausing and checking the dashboard regularly.

I want to be great at work, but not at the expense of my family.  I want to be a great dad and husband, but not at the complete expense of my work. I want to be a great member of the community, both local and distant.  But not if it means sacrificing my health.

Maybe greatness lies in letting each of the important areas of our lives speak to the other.  At any given time one may need more attention, but paying attention all the while to the whole.  Maybe that makes us an all-rounder.  Excellent!

Doug Wysockey-Johnson
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  1. But the toga would be a nice touch! ;)

  2. I belong to a church that continuously encourages its members to strive for perfection. Most of the time I strive to forfill an assignment very well or in a near excellent manner. Jesus said "Be ye perfect..." but he also said,"Well done thy good and faithful servant" I'm pretty sure I cannot be perfect in this lifetime, but I realize I can be good and do good often if I choose to.