The Propensity to Mediocrity

First some dictionary definitions of the components of the expression:

  • Propensity: n … An innate inclination; a tendency.
  • Mediocre/Mediocrity: of only ordinary or moderate quality; barely adequate.
  • Source:

While ‘Entropy will Always Get you in the End’, we should put up a good fight until then.

Excellence and maintaining excellence is hard work.  Being number one, on top, in the first quartile means constantly beating: number two, those under you and the other three quartiles.  People, organizations and societies want time to rest, enjoy the fruits of their labour or enjoy their entitlements.

My supposition is that people are hardwired toward rest and perhaps even mediocrity.  From an evolutionary perspective it makes perfect sense.  If you are well fed, comfortable, dry and at peace – why risk your genetic inheritance until you are hungry, in discomfort, the roof is leaking or threatened.  Further to some of my prior blogs (e.g. Collaboration – Is it Hard Wired), In/Group and Loyalty is a potentially innate human-attribute.  Excellence, by definition, removes people from the group.

Does this mean that I believe that people are inherently lazy or evil – no.  Do I think that people-families-communities-organizations-societies will seek to cash in on their current riches and past hard work – yes.  Should we care and do something about this – it depends.

There are times when it is important to rest, repair and reflect. As Stephen Covey would observe, Sharpening the Saw is critical to a highly effective person-organization-etc.  However, people-families-communities-organizations-societies also need to be on the lookout for those who confuse earned-rest with entitlement.

So, how do we thwart the Propensity to Mediocrity? Like most things in life, through hard work, discipline, leadership, support and innovation.  Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great” has codified these as: disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action.  Alas, this leads to a fundamental set of contradictions:

  1. Contradiction 1: there is only a limited number of things we can be great at; striving to be great at all or even good at most will typically lead to mediocre in all.
  2. Contradiction 2: individuals must be given the latitude to be great, even if there is a risk that a few will choose entitlement over effort.  Disciplined leadership means dealing with the few lazy-miscreants and not imposing their punishment on everyone.
  3. Contradiction 3: discipline does not mean authoritative.  Discipline means that tough conversations occur and great solutions are found.  Authoritative often means tough conversations are supressed and mediocre solutions are imposed or tolerated.

If the above seems difficult, even a bit fuzzy – it is because the propensity to mediocrity is easy and the discipline to great is difficult, challenging, never entirely clear or even assured.  Entropy will get us in the end but in the meantime, our ongoing wealth, prosperity and standard of living are based on the need to both rest and to constantly fight mediocrity.

One thought on “The Propensity to Mediocrity

  1. Excellence takes time, thought, and conscientious effort. “Good is good enough” is often the mantra of companies rushing to get their products out ahead of the competition. In this incredibly fast-paced world, few are prepared to wait for excellence or perfection – or to pay for it either. As for employees, when both excellence and mediocrity are rewarded the same – nay, when society actually REWARDS mediocrity by failing to punish or even rein in CEOs whose excessive risk taking and poor performance lead to economic meltdown! – then why should one bother striving for excellence?

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