Striving for Excellence Part Two – Becoming World-Class

This is a follow up to a previous post. You may want to read this first.


How good is good enough? 

If we are committed to striving for excellence, this helps us to form a “minimum acceptable standard” of what we will accept from ourselves. If we have made a conscious decision to become world-class in a given field, then this can inform every choice, every decision and every action that we subsequently take.

If I set off on a journey without first deciding on a destination I might have a very enjoyable trip, but I may also end up driving round in circles, wasting energy and retreading old ground.

If I decide to drive from Newcastle to London, this dictates every turn and junction that I will take along the way. Even if I never make it, I will surely end up a lot closer than when I started driving. If I choose incorrectly I could end up arriving at Edinburgh instead.

Similarly I can’t just take the path of least resistance. If my decisions were based on what was easy I might avoid the traffic/roadworks altogether. Again, if I did this I might end up somewhere else entirely. I may need to stop to refuel, rest, or make the odd diversion but if I am committed to the destination and keep working towards it I will hopefully get there eventually.

This is where the driving analogy falls apart – because Edinburgh, like London can be a wonderful place, and sometimes you can have a wonderful time just enjoying the journey. In our commitment to excellence however, if we’re not at least moving in the right direction we will likely end up with average or sub-par results because…

The destination dictates the path

If we have made a firm commitment to becoming world-class then we can measure each and every decision or action against this goal. Asking ourselves  questions like “How would a world class organisation respond to this situation?” can help us to discover what our next steps could or should be. Similarly asking “Would a world class organisation do this?” can help us to identify and then eliminate unnecessary or counter-productive tasks.

In a teaching context you might ask yourself:

“Do I have high expectations for every student?”

“How do I demonstrate this?”

“How would the very best in my profession deal with this situation?”

Of course what excellence looks like may well vary from student to student, but the point is for both you and your students to strive for excellence… whatever that means to you.

How do we achieve excellence?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and sometimes we need to break down an outlandish vision into a long series of easily actionable tasks. I see striving for excellence as a gradual process – what Tony Robbins might call “constant and never-ending improvement” or what Toyota might refer to as Kaizen. We aren’t trying to become outstanding overnight, but rather to make small incremental changes in the right direction. It can sometimes be disheartening to focus too much on a very long-term goal, whereas a long succession of small “wins” can keep you motivated. For this reason it is very helpful to keep notes and record any and all successes, no matter how small, along the way. As Martin Luther King once said “Faith is taking the first step when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Taking time to periodically reflect on our progress so far can help us to keep the faith.

Do what’s right not what’s easy

By definition striving for excellence means that we have already accepted that we aren’t excellent yet. This means that we will have to tread unfamiliar ground. We will have to step outside of our comfort zone and do things that aren’t entirely comfortable.

“Unless we change directions, we are likely to end up where we are headed.” -Chinese Proverb

Have you decided where you would like to end up?

Are your current behaviours/standards/choices taking you towards this destination or away from it?

Why not decide on your destination, and start working towards it today?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Please tweet me @dfrancisdrums and use the hashtag #excellence


Striving for Excellence



My day-to-day work is focused on music education. At a recent meeting with other local arts and culture organisations, we discussed how we might use the Arts Council’s quality principles to help us evaluate and improve what we do in our work with children & young people.

The seven quality principles are:

  1. Striving for excellence and innovation
  2. Being authentic
  3. Being exciting, inspiring and engaging
  4. Ensuring a positive and inclusive experience
  5. Actively involving children and young people
  6. Enabling personal progression
  7. Developing belonging and ownership

In considering which of these resonated with me personally, I was drawn overwhelmingly to number one – striving for excellence and innovation. It seems to me that attempting to do the other six to the best of your abilities would mean that you were indeed striving for excellence and innovation. Conversely, I’m not sure you could claim to be striving for excellence and innovation without covering the other six.

Success is a choice

Why not strive for excellence in everything you do? Is there a better option? Do any of us truly wish and hope to one day be okay, or mediocre, or average?

I firmly believe that excellence, innovation and success are a choice. The day you commit to excellence, your entire world changes. Your philosophy is a guidance system which informs your decisions and actions, and therefore the results that you bring about. In addition, if you choose to aim for excellence, you will be far more motivated to continue in spite of obstacles because you have a clear vision of what could be possible.

How you do anything is how you do everything

We are creatures who are ruled by our habits, and our habits are formed and strengthened through repetition. It is a mistake to think that we can cut corners in preparation, and then excel in performance. The good thing about this is that any time you try do anything to the best of your abilities, it has the potential to affect all other areas of your life.

To distil this all down to it’s core I think the key questions we need to continually ask ourselves, and then act on, are:

  • How good do I want this to be?
  • Is my current attitude/activity going to achieve this?

For those interested, here are a couple of suggestions for further reading:

Success is a Choice – Rick Pitino

The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

As ever, tweet me your thoughts @dfrancisdrums. Use the hashtag #excellence

12 books to read, read and read again


Reading has always been a huge source of pleasure and learning for me. I was an avid reader as a child and in the last 10 years, the books I’ve read have made a huge impact on my life. I can confidently say that I would be a completely different person were it not for the books I’ve read and the lessons I have learned and applied in this time.

Some books contain so much wisdom that it is impossible to absorb everything with just one reading. I have made a pact with myself to continually re-read certain books, in order to keep reinforcing the learning and really absorb and apply the lessons within.

Here are my 12 suggestions, for continued reading and growth, in no particular order:

Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court – John Wooden

This is a wonderful book. I have zero knowledge or interest in college basketball, but this is really a book about being a better person, a better family member and a better teacher. I have long been a collector of quotes, and often make a note in a notebook/journal when I come across something interesting in a book. I tried doing this with Wooden and soon realised I was copying out the entire book! I have since given this book to numerous people and studiously copy Wooden’s guidelines for life into every notebook I buy, so I always have them to hand. I will say it one more time – this is a wonderful book.

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

Please don’t let the title, or the fact that this was written thousands of years ago put you off. The Gregory Hays translation is very readable and contains a huge amount of wisdom that is applicable to 21st Century life. This is a collection of journal entries from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and contains wisdom on all aspects of life. The fact that each entry is fairly short allows a reader to dip in and out, rather than just read from cover to cover. Reading a few entries each morning is a great way to start your day.

Focal Point – Brian Tracy

I’ve read a number of Brian Tracy’s books, but this was the one that had the greatest impact on my own life. One of the concepts that I have used and re-used is this: If you are currently doing something that you wouldn’t willingly take on knowing what you know now, you should stop doing that thing as soon as possible. This is a great way to remain focused on activities that bring you happiness and success, and eliminate things that draw you away from what is truly important.

Leading an inspired life – Jim Rohn

I have read all of Jim Rohn’s books and listened to hundreds of hours of his audio recordings. This is my favourite. It contains all of Rohn’s key lessons and is a joy to read. Highly recommended.

How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life – Alan Lakein

This is a book that was recommended by Jim Rohn on the subject of time management. It is actually about something deeper than this. It is an excellent method for ensuring that your activity matches your deepest values and aspirations. It is fairly short, and a quick read, but many of the ideas are potentially life-changing. The section on overcoming procrastination is very practical and has helped me a great deal. Bill Clinton also recommends this book and regardless of your opinions of him, there’s no denying that he has achieved a great deal more than most!

The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness

This book is all about the power of incremental change and the fact that a few small disciplines, practised daily, can have a huge impact over time. I read it a couple of years ago, and in the application of these ideas I ran a half-marathon, achieved my goal weight, got a new job, and reclaimed thousands of pounds of money from high street banks. Well worth the investment of time and money spent reading the book.

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results – Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

This book expresses a very powerful idea extremely well. It is a great way to make sure you are aligning your daily activities with your core purpose and values. The One Thing is a very easy read and is great for applying in your own life but it is also invaluable for anyone who finds themselves in a teaching, coaching or mentoring role – either at work, in your family, or in your friendships.

How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

This is one of those books that everyone has heard of and few people seem to have actually read. We interact with other people, all the time, in family, friendships and work settings. Reading and absorbing the lessons in this book will definitely help you to deal more effectively with other people and enjoy these personal interactions more. If everyone read this book, I am convinced that the world would be a much better place!

The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage – Ryan Holiday

This is an excellent companion to Mediations by Marcus Aurelius. It builds on a central principle from Stoic philosophy and Buddhist teaching – that we don’t control what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to it. A terrific book, and like many on this list, the lessons within are applicable to all kinds of situations, for all kinds of people.

Change Your Life In Seven Days – Paul McKenna

Those of you who remember McKenna as a television and stage hypnotist may be slightly sceptical about this choice. I picked it up out of curiosity as I felt that the title might be over-selling the content a little. In reading it, I found that many concepts I had seen elsewhere were taught in a much more accessible way, that made sense to me. When I picked this book up again last year, an index card fell out. I had used the card four or five years previously to do one of the exercises in the book, setting some goals for my life. The card very accurately described my current life and every goal had been achieved. I am convinced that this book was at least partly responsible.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R Covey

This book took me a while! I had heard this recommended over and over and had tried to read it many times, but found it hard work and gave up. Eventually I bought an abridged audio version and, having listened to this, I found myself reading the actual text (and numerous other books by Covey) several times over. If you can cope with the style of writing, the lessons in this book are powerful and timeless.

The Magic of Thinking Big – David J Schwartz

This is one of my all time favourite personal development books. It is full of very use-able concepts and exercises, illustrated with stories about real-life applications. It is a fun read, but contains many powerful ideas.

Who has time to read 12 books? 

…pretty much everybody, but if you want the edited highlights, consider this:

If I were able to choose three books to give to every student, on leaving school they would be Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court by John Wooden, The Magic of Thinking Big by David J Schwartz and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

Over to you…

I’m curious to hear from others – If you had to choose 12 books to re-read over and over throughout your life, what would they be? Why not tweet me a “shelfie” photo of your 12 books? Mine is at the top of this blog. Find me on twitter @dfrancisdrums

How to have a perfect day


Even those of us who love our jobs usually look forward to the weekend. Why? It’s a chance to unwind, to decompress and to spend time with those who mean the most to us.

It seems counter-intuitive to plan and schedule our weekends too much. We want to feel that we have freedom and spontaneity. We want to go with the flow and relax.

This is understandable, but in my experience a completely unplanned weekend can often result in several hours of cleaning, grocery shopping and laundry, followed by the realisation that we’re too exhausted to do much else. Before you know it, its Sunday evening and you feel like all you’ve done is a few chores. Don’t get me wrong – having clean clothes is important, but is your laundry more important than happiness, your family or your marriage?

Why not pick a weekend in the near future and design, and then live, your perfect day?

Step One – Imagine:

If you had a full 24 hours to do whatever you wanted, how would you spend it?

  • How would you wake up?
  • What would you do first?
  • Where would you go?
  • What would you eat?
  • Who would you spend it with?
  • What would you see?

The only limitation is that this all has to be do-able within 24 hours. Don’t say that you want to wake up on a desert island… unless you already live on one!

Here’s an example to get you started:

  • Wake up relaxed, without an alarm clock.
  • Get up and do my morning routine (meditation, reading, exercise, journalling etc.) while my wife gets ready.
  • Take the dog for a walk on the beach.
  • Go out for breakfast/brunch.
  • Browse at a local bric-a-brac market and some second hand bookshops.
  • Find a nice cafe for some coffee and a snack, whilst flicking through our newly purchased books.
  • Head home to get relax.
  • Go out to a live performance – music, theatre or comedy.
  • Head home and enjoy a relaxing glass of wine/cup of tea on the sofa before bed.

If you’re stuck for ideas, have a go at the exercise in this post first.

Step Two – Plan:

Will anything on the list require any prior planning? You might need to make reservations or buy tickets. You may need to check when your next free day is, and whether or not it coincides with a free day for your partner/friends/family. You may need to save up a little.

Whatever planning is needed, take the time and do it. Make an appointment with yourself in your diary for your perfect day and stick to it. Even if your perfect day is a few weeks in the future, the anticipation of it will bring you joy, just like the day itself will.

Step Three – Do:

This is the fun part – simply enjoy living your perfect day, and of course, give yourself some flexibility. You don’t want to feel like it is a chore, or that you’re clock-watching. If something doesn’t work out, or you run out of time, just adjust as you go.

Step Four – Repeat:

If you’ve had your own perfect day, why not take turns with your partner/family creating and living perfect days? In my family I’ve noticed that a perfect day for one of us, leads to a fun day for all of us. Its a great way to encourage others around us to focus on happiness, use their imaginations and create positive memories.

Enjoy the exercise. If you’d like to share the results please tweet me @dfrancisdrums with some photos from your day(s) using the hashtag #perfectday