Remember when good was good enough?
When I was a child, my parents always told me to work hard so that I would be “good” at whatever I wanted to do. I wanted to play the piano so I practiced hard to be good. I wanted to play on the basketball team so, again, I practiced so that I would be good enough to make the team. I wanted to be a good student so I studied hard. My father always impressed on me to a “good” girl.
Others had their own “good” goals:
- To be good doctor, lawyer, or accountant. (Incidentally, people were also happy with having a good doctor, lawyer, or accountant.)
- To be a good basketball, baseball, or football player.
- To be a good singer, dancer, or musician.
- To look good, feel good, and to be good.
Back then—way back then!—good was enough. Good was good enough. We were happy with good.
Those were the “good” days…but they are over.
Today, good is no longer good enough. Good is the new average. Even worse, good is the new mediocre.
The bar has risen. The sights are set higher. The demand is greater.
So, what do we want to be now?
We want to be great!
We want to be great students.
We want to be great doctors, lawyers, and accountants. (Incidentally, again, we want to HAVE great doctors, lawyers, and accountants.)
We want to look great, feel great, and be great.
Has great become the new good?
No, great is not the new good. Great is different.
What is great?
Perhaps the best description of “great” can be found in the Supreme Court’s description of obscenity. (Yes, I am comparing greatness to obscenity!) Justice Stewart is quoted as saying that he cannot describe obscenity but he knows it when he sees it.
This know-it-when-you-see-it description can equally apply to greatness. We might not know how to describe greatness but we know it when we see it. And when we feel it. Yes, great is, indeed, different.
Back to my childhood, I vividly remember watching Muhammed Ali boxing on television. While I was not a big boxing fan, I couldn’t wait for the next Ali fight. I loved watching the buildup to the fight and, especially, the interviews. I loved Muhammed Ali. He was “The Greatest!” He was the first person that I had ever seen stand up and unabashedly shout that he was “The Greatest”. He was cocky and arrogant. He was strong and powerful. He was handsome and muscular. And he could face anyone inside or outside the ring without fear. He was “The Greatest.” I wanted to be just like him—bold, strong, and great. To me, everyone else was “The Enemy.”
The Enemy of Great
In his best-selling book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies make the grade…and some don’t, Jim Collins opens the book by stating that good is the enemy of great. Yes, it’s true: good is the enemy of great. Any company can be good but only certain companies actually achieve greatness. Greatness is something that is achieved; good is something that one simply is. Great companies endure, adapt, and prosper. Good companies either climb higher or they decline and fail.
Does this apply to individuals? Yes and no.
For people, good can be the stepping-stone to greatness. Or it can be a place to settle and grow old. Some people take the former route but most take the latter.
Let’s look at an example: The Beatles
Malcolm Gladwell discusses The Beatles in his book, Outliers. He says that The Beatles were a mediocre to good band when they started playing in Hamburg. They had a good gig where they could play every night for hours. The band needed more material and practice to keep up their appearances in Hamburg. The lived backstage, used cold water from the urinals to bathe and shave and played every day for 14-hours. Days were spent writing and practicing and nights spent performing—for years. What happened during that time? They honed their performance skills, widened their reputation, and made their first recording. The Beatles transformed from a good band into the great band. They took the former road to greatness.
However, the Beatles could have followed the latter road and remained content to continue playing every night in Hamburg until their gig ended. Then the band could have moved to another city where they would have been welcomed as another good band to visit the city.
But they would not have been the great band that we remember today. They would not have become musical legends. We wouldn’t still be humming the music from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
To be Good or Great?
This brings us to the inevitable question: do you want to be good or great? Perhaps more accurate question is whether you want to be mediocre or great?
Remember that the bar has risen. You can be left behind (or below) or rise to that level of greatness that is buried deep within you. It is a long, hard road. But everyone has to “pay their dues” and keep earning their right to move along the road to greatness. As Muhammed Ali stated, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and spend the rest of your life as a champion.” The Beatles also paid their “suffering dues” to keep moving forward on the road to greatness.
So, you want to move from “good” to “great”. What’s the first step?
The first step towards greatness can be summed in two words: Be different.
Remember that good is good but great is different. Know that “good” is your enemy.
You will know it when you see it!