Archives for posts with tag: mediocrity


The financial crisis has been with us since 2008, followed by a tepid recovery. You would expect businesses to focus on delivering excellent customer service experiences and overdeliver on every level.

Surprisingly, even though customers value excellence, and even though companies are committed to delivering it, we’re still subjecting each other to excruciating mediocrity.

Why is that?

Great service is not delivered on pure attitude or willingness to please. Great service is part of the business design. Businesses make strategic tradeoffs to deliver a reliable, superior experience:

JetBlue: Low prices, no transfer to other airlines, no business class, no lounges, no special service. In exchange, customers get low prices, one bag for free and convenient locations out of the mega-airports.

iPad: The iPad has no USB, it’s hard to create any content on it, multi-tasking is almost impossible but it’s a great device to consume media, get sucked into the app world or use it as a presentation tool.

My favorite coffeeshop: The coffee is mediocre, the seating is limited and uncomfortable, the Wifi spotty. Still, their kid’s area is superb, a lot of other parents show up on the weekend, they remember my order and have it ready within a minute and everybody is very friendly.

Successful businesses make these choices by design. They know they can’t be good at everything but need to be superb at something, while, at the same time, be bad at other things. For that to work, companies need to deeply understand their customers and design a business that delivers on the most important values of their customers.

I can live with mediocre coffee as long as my kid plays happily for an hour and I can catch up on my Instapaper during that time.

I can live without special service offerings from JetBlue as long as they get me to m destination without any frills and paying for the first bag.

We don’t want to buy from brands that can do everything fairly well. We want to buy from companies that do something exceptionally well and other things exceptionally bad.


I’m always surprised at how quickly people will do anything to defend the status quo.

Think about the healthcare debate. We clearly have a failing healthcare system but many people didn’t want the government to touch it.

The entitlement debate. We know the current system of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is not sustainable. But we don’t discuss sensible solutions.

The majority of meetings don’t change anything, they’re on the schedule to defend not just the status quo but the inevitability of it. It comes from the old company town mentality where it’s better for everyone just to follow.

We’re living in a winner-take-all world.

Good enough is not good enough anymore. It’s an utter failure. And the benefits of being the best in the world are now so much bigger compared to 20 years ago. This discrepancy will increase over time, it won’t diminish. Any social engineering won’t change this truth, it can just help to create a buffer.

30 years ago, my father competed with 30 other people for a promotion. My daughter will compete with billions of people. Scary? Maybe. Exhilarating? Absolutely. Think about it: You have now a potential audience of billions of people. Billions of people might be willing to listen to you, exchange value with you.

Why would you want to be just good enough?

You need to be different to succeed.

As Tom Peters said: “Go hire some freaks and fire all the “ruts” that got you into this mess.” Maybe you’re not in a mess yet but chances are you will be very soon. You need to make sure that anything you do focus on being the best, hiring the best, producing the best.

For a long time, being mediocre was enough to make it in this world. Now, when you race to mediocrity, you’re actually racing to the bottom.


There’s a lot of chatter in the Social Web about failing fast and often, getting comfortable with failure since it’s part of the innovation process or how failure breeds success. One of the few voices opposing this view is Alex Bogusky, who rather celebrates success and forgets about failures.

When you’re encouraged to fail constantly because success will come at one point, you’re like a gambler in Vegas placing small bets on Roulette tables. $10 here, $10 here. The biggest payout you’ll be able to collect is $350. Not bad. Not life-changing. Just an incremental change in the right direction. The path to mediocrity is paved with small successes and small failures.

To be a real change agent, to dramatically transform anything, you have to give yourself the right to be wrong. Dead wrong. De Lorean wrong. What’s so bad about being wrong? If you’re never wrong, it indicates you’re not growing.

When I switched agencies a while back, I took all my knowledge and digital arrogance, and recommended a specific buy/campaign/tactic. When the numbers came back, I was devastated. Not one metric worked out. Not one. My initial instinct was to look at the creative, the testing, tried to cite best practices, what competitors are doing – just find a way to qualify it as a success through other objectives. But I was so wrong with my recommendation that I just had to admit to it: I was wrong. Dead wrong. I wasted your money. The client signed the check. And we continued to work together.

Having the freedom to be wrong is a big relief and gives you intellectual freedom. On the other hand, failures are often transformed into fake successes by focusing on other metrics/objectives: “We didn’t generate any leads but user engagement was high.” Trying to slowly transform the failure into a Phyrric victory.

Stop it.

Don’t let that human right to be wrong become extinct by replacing it with acceptable, so-so or good enough. Create a culture where being wrong is part of the human experience. Being wrong eventually leads to being right. And it’s a much more interesting journey than the murky path of small failures.


Throughout the World Cup, I received many emails and tweets congratulating “my team”, Deutschland, for their great tournament and playing really exciting soccer (Fussball, as I call it.). Reading German newspapers and magazines, I experienced a lot of self-congratulation for the new, exciting German soccer game, how suddenly the world loves Germans and the multi-cultural faces that played on the team. Oh yes, and 3rd place was lovely.

Enough already.

We’re talking German soccer here. We’re supposed to win each time. Sure, we won’t, but any tournament we don’t win is a loss. Period. Did you ever see the Lakers or Yankees fans celebrate a second place? Or a good loss in the Division Final? Of course not. On paper, Germany’s performance in the last 3 tournaments looks outstanding: Third place World Cup 2006, 2nd place Euro 2008 and 3rd place World Cup 2010. Great. But, where’s the trophy?

Match it up with all that nonsense talk when the US tied England in a group game and people started to celebrate it as a victory. That kind of talk will get you nowhere. Very, very quickly.

Winning organizations are like “A” students: They expect to get an “A” each time they perform. Whenever they get a “B” or worse, they’re disappointed and work hard to get back to the “A” level. Mediocre organizations are like “C” students: They get a “B-” and high-five each person they encounter. They are still not as good as the slip-up of the “A” organization but they’re ecstatic because for once they’re out of the “C” cellar. Just to slip back into it again very, very soon.

We all worked with “A” people before. They might fail, maybe even often, but they always give everything they have. They believe something can be done when others think it can’t. They can solve problems others consider unsolvable. They don’t believe in expectation of others, they have their own expectations. And, we all worked with “C” people. They might talk a big game but their actual work is sloppy. Mistakes. Not failures. Laziness. No high standards. No inner push.

If your organization does things that everyone arounds you thinks you can achieve, then your organization is just a “B” student, not pushing everyone hard enough. I’m not talking about pipe dreams, I’m talking about Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals. Rationally, you will achieve your goals when you meet certain metrics. But, that’s not fulfilling, organizational achievement. Real accomplishment and achievement comes from pushing everyone, including yourself, to the limit. Beyond the place where everybody else thinks you could ever go. As a “C” organization, you need to push for constant “A” scores. It might take a while,  a lot of “B” scores, but as long you keep up an air of excellence, deeply rooted in your organization, you are on the way to become an “A” organization.

An interesting thing happens on the way: The people that didn’t believe in you and your organization in the beginning, will be starting to believe in you. And these people will do everything they can to make you even more successful. Nothing in your balance sheet might have changed, you still employ the same people, deal with the same stakeholders – a mindset of excellence will change everything.

My kid’s Karate teacher said to the class a few days ago: ” When you want to tear a piece of paper with your hand, you don’t aim for the paper. You don’t aim for a small space behind the paper. You aim for a place 2,000 miles beyond the paper.”

Shoot for the stars.