Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

What Is Excellence?

For the past few years now I've been totally locked into one significant phrase from author Jim Collins: "simplify and pursue excellence". S&PE. It changed everything in my work. It's been the core function of what I do for the better part of 3 years. Simplify things down and than run after excellence. It speaks to focus and candor, results, accountability, and so much more. There is no phrase that, outside of scripture, has possibly changed my life more. Despite my fascination with this concept, I've really been wrestling with a significant questions recently: "What is excellence"? What exactly is it that I'm pursuing anyway? What am I positioning myself to attain?


I suppose on some level we could define excellence independently. We could simply say that excellence is different things to different groups. Maybe excellence looks different to each of us, like those new "find your greatness" Nike commercials. After a lot of thought though, I'm not sure I can fully accept that. It may be part of the truth, but I think it ignores the fact that excellence is not fully subjective. There are things that diverse groups of people find excellent and, thus, I can't simply accept that excellence means something completely different to everyone. There must be an agreeable and transferable definition of excellence.

In these first few days of August I've had the ability to attend the Global Leadership Summit. This is my third year to the Summit and I find it to be an incredible experience. Over the years I've been regaled by speakers like Jack Welch, Jim Collins, Patrick Lencioni, Dr. Henry Cloud, Bill Hybels, Condoleezza Rice, and many others. It always serves as a great learning experience for me, and I always seem to walk away with one or two key points that really stick with me and find their way into my work. This year was no different thanks to Mr. Jim Collins.

Collins gave an incredible talk this year at the Summit. I could have listened for hours. There was one thing, though, that really rocked my world. Collins was speaking of mediocrity when he said that it is not defined by an unwillingness to change but by chronic inconsistency. Wow, gut check time. Mediocrity is chronic inconsistency. It's not the lack of great results but the inability to repeatedly provide those results. Of course we could infer the opposite than couldn't we? I think we could, and it is here that we find our defining trait of excellence. If mediocrity is in inconsistency, excellence is in consistency. Excellence is not simply great results, but the discipline to repeat those results over and over again.

This is why simplicity matters to excellence. We live in a complex world, and I'm not just referring to complex problems. Have you seen how many one-hit-wonders have popped up on micro funding sites? We live in a connected and resourced world with both complex problems and complex opportunities. This is where our problem lies, isn't it? Our chronic inconsistency is a product of our complexity. After all, there is no way we can provide repeatable, consistant, excellence, results amongst raging complexity. They simply can't coexist. And this is why my viewpoint has changed on the concept of "simplify and pursue excellence". You see simplicity is not something you do before you run after excellence, simplicity is the drive of excellence. In today's complex world I don't believe we have the luxury of separating these concepts as one and than the other. They are dependent on each other.

Mediocrity is chronic inconsistency. Excellence, than, is found in religious consistency. Simplicity is no longer a luxury or ideal in todays raging complexity. Simplicity is required.

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