What matters now: Excellence, being the Most, and playing up Strengths

This “installment” is on being the best you can be.

On Excellence, Tom Peters covers the 18 essential E’s key to being excellent. Here they are in my words, and with the connotations I believe fit. 1) Enthusiasm: be irresistible and excited about whatever you’re doing. 2) Exuberance: Be vibrant and “cause earthquakes!” 3) Execution: Peters says “Do it! NOW! Get it done! Barriers are baloney!” 4) Empowerment: Find out what irks people, and turn it around. Boost confidence. Motivate. 5) Edginess: Live ON the edge, taking risks, living life to the fullest. 6) Enraged: Challenge the squo. Be a bit reckless, break the rules that haven’t been broken, says Peters. 7) Engaged: In touch with the world around you. ALWAYS. 8) Electronic: technology is your friend and key to building partnerships. 9) Encompassing: Pursue diverse opinions in your focused field. 10) Emotion: The essence. Of everything. Acknowledge it. Embody it. 11) Empathy: Connect with the dreams and ideas of others. Walk around in their shoes “until the soles have holes,” says Peters. 12) Ears: Listen. Listen. Listen. Boom, strategic advantage! 13) Experience: Peters says “Life is theater!” I agree. Live large, be dramatic, make every moment as memorable as you can. “The standard,” he says, “Insanely great/Steve Jobs, Radically Thrilling/BWM.” 14) Eliminate: Less is more. Simplicity is golden. 15) Error-Prone: Try a lot and fail a lot. Then do it all again. That’s how you get better. 16) Evenhanded: Fair. Truthful. Honest. 17) Expectations: I can’t rephrase Michelangelo. As he puts it, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” 18) Eudaimonia: This one sounds like the Hippocratic Oath; Be of Service. Always. According to Peters, it’s “the core of Aristotle’s philosophy. Pursue the highest of human moral purpose.”
Next, William Taylor says “it’s not good enough anymore to be ‘pretty good’ at everything. You have to be the most of something.” To me, this is depth over breadth; do really well at one thing as opposed to okay at a variety of tasks. For example, in debate, they use this exact lingo to tell the debaters to focus on a few key arguments and not to spread themselves too thin. But this applies to general life goals too. Pick one area, be it a subject, sport, or art, to focus on, with the goal of being the BEST at it. Taylor reiterates that being okay at a lot of things, in his words staying in the middle of the road, is not beneficial. He quotes Jim Hightower as saying, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.” Why play it safe and spread yourself out too thin, when now the allure is in the outliers, those clinging to the sides of the road.

“Forget about working on your weaknesses,”says Marti Barletta. “Focus on supporting your strengths.” That’s not something you hear everyday: beef up your strengths and don’t worry about improving your weaknesses. It’s counter-intuitive to all we’ve been taught since we were little. In school, areas that “need improvement” are the targets, the combined focus of parents, teachers and the student. No one really pays attention to the places where you’re meeting or even exceeding expectations, sometimes to your detriment. But Barletta’s point is that in the context of team work, it’s more effective to combine everyone’s strengths than to have a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. She frames it nicely saying, “The beautiful thing about being on a team is that, believe it our not, lots of people love doing the things you hate. And hate doing the things that you love. So quit diligently developing your weaknesses. Instead, partner with someone very UNlike you, share the work and share the wealth and everyone’s happy.”

To me, these three values really go together. To be excellent, you have to follow your passion, be an outlier, aim at being the most exuberant and enthusiastic person out there. To be excellent you must develop your strengths and know how to use them in collaboration with others. Meshing these skills together results in a better whole. As Tom Peters says, “If not excellence, then what?”


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