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