‘The first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of mediocrity…’*

Muzeable Thinking No. 14 – posted by Tim Brooks 14th May 2013

If you spend any time looking at business performance you quickly realise that most of what we all do is positively average. Worse still, too much of it is actually pretty poor. Sorry.

I have been musing on a couple of notions relating to this. Like many of us I have spent years trying to suck in the best ideas and examples of success, but my cynical side is fast realising this process might be fun/inspiring/personally useful/important, but perhaps a bit of a waste of time in considering the overall quest for growth and working in the real world. Often, it’s like comparing elite athletes with park players – not meaningful, not fair! So what needs examining to start to change this?

1. A lot of business is at best like the Emperor’s new clothes at worst a lie. Leaders package up mediocrity and sell it as future success. They insist on 4% growth when the business can really, really only do 2%. ‘We’re doing badly, now, but wait till next year…’ Sadly, they have to do this. The truth is unpalatable and we all want to keep our jobs. But it means nearly everything starts off on the wrong foot.

2. Business also loves optimists. So, it’s not even a lie, people actually believe what they’re saying!

3. Both these points go right to the heart of the debate on short termism/quarterly results etc. – an institutionalised farce! This has to change… even if only in relation to our internal decisions/discussion!

4. Within this, we all hide behind the inevitability of big, complex forces and say it’s not us it’s the market/category [ see following great article in Strategy & Business  http://www.strategy-business.com/article/00251?gko=cb1ac ] This is a cheap excuse, since there is growth/success in most/all categories – it’s a lame bit of leadership spin.

5. We constantly look to best practice/case studies from organisation WE have no possible chance of replicating – for reasons too numerous to mention. Unless you have a Steve Jobs and the unique set of forces that coalesced around him – simplistically, look at it, but don’t expect to get too much practical input from looking at an Apple.

6. Maybe, we also need to acknowledge a reality – people only need so much ‘stuff’ so competition makes winners and losers inevitable in any market. All categories will have a mix of performance levels/cyclical performance. Obvious eh!

So, I think we need a step change in business rhetoric. We need to learn to do ‘brutal truth’ without brutality and atrophying negativity. We need to genuinely start to deconstruct how the average company, the average leader and his/her average team actually work and how they can improve. It’s not enough to bludgeon them with reflections on genius, the best… they won’t get it or do it. In fact it might end up being demotivating.
Problem is this is just not very sexy.

*paraphrasing John Knox, not a very pleasant 16th Century misogynist. Look him up!

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