I Can’t Forget This One Conversation

It was a simple conversation. One that I’ve had many times, and one I’ve heard other people have. However, this one was different. It was brief, fleeting in fact, but I still remember it. It was a conversation I witnessed between two elderly gentlemen as I made a routine run to the grocery store.

It’s interesting to me how oblivious we can be to the impact of our conversations. They didn’t know I heard them, likely will never know I’m writing this now. It was one in a million conversations they had that week.

The gentlemen were obviously acquaintances, perhaps even dear friends. However, the first gentlemen spoke with a different demeanor than the second. His posture, his gate, was different. His smile was not boastful, but confident, and certainly impossible to overlook.

As he approached his friend, he made a slight upward gesture with his hand. “How’s the day treating you?” he asked. His friend, approaching, simply said “you know, it’s going good”. This is normal, and happens a thousand times everyday by all of us. But the response caught me off guard. The first gentleman with a chuckle said, “Oh no, I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope it gets better”.

Why would he say that? Perhaps this was an inside joke. But it seems the gentleman would have responded apologetically to anything other than a “I’m doing great”. It makes me think though, what’s wrong with a good day? I mean, isn’t “good” good enough?

Well, as it turns out …there’s a book for that, the book Good to Great by James Collins, addresses this specifically. Before I dive in, know that this book is geared towards defining this concept as it relates to business and turning good companies into great companies. BUT I think there’s something here for all of us.

It talks about the types of people, and most specifically, the types of leaders it takes to make the jump from the state of ‘good’ to ‘great’. However, the concepts and the research at the heart of this book is just as relevant to our everyday life.

Collins’ proposed concept is that ‘good’ is the enemy of ‘great’, which I think is intriguing. It’s easy to think as ‘great’ as being a slightly elevated, perhaps temporary state, of good. However, he argues that these two concepts are at war with one another. You have to totally reject the idea of ‘good’. You have to actively fight against it, to ever achieve ‘great’.

I can’t reference all the research, however something specific was surprising about the people in these studies. They viewed the world differently. They viewed their mission differently.

My default picture of someone ‘demanding exceptionalism’ is perhaps an over-the-top personality type. I see a person who is glaringly enthusiastic, a bit boisterous even. Surprisingly though, this is the opposite of the attitude that it takes according to Collins and his team. In fact, out of all the research, these personalities didn’t have the best results at all. Sometimes they did, but they were short lived. No, the leaders that demanded exceptionalism, and got it, were a different sort of person. They were humble.

They humbly operated in the background. They cared significantly more about elevating others over elevating themselves. In fact, the people leading at these levels actively withdrew from attention. Ironically, they almost out right refused to acknowledge the impact of their own actions.

These people never saw their current state as being ‘great’. Rather they saw the vision of where they wanted to go as great. It could be easy to mistake this as a lack of confidence. However, that doesn’t seem to be true either. In fact, the research showed they had very high degrees of confidence. They believed wholeheartedly in themselves and their abilities. Most importantly though, they were able to bring these same characteristics out in others.

Being ‘great’ was a journey these individuals consistently saw themselves in. This was reflected in their habits, in their time management, and in the people they chose to be around. Anything they found in their life that did not have the ability to become great they actively rejected, in many cases at great sacrifice.

In several cases they lead their organizations out of highly profitable sectors simply because they didn’t think they could be the absolute best in the industry. ‘Becoming’ the best was the journey they wanted to be on. They would totally reinvent their products and their brands until they positioned themselves and their organizations in a way that demanded world class results.

So what’s the application for most of us here? Very few of us are in the exact same scenarios as the individuals being researched in this book. We’re not likely managing billion dollar companies. However, I think we may have the ability to have the same mindset.

Perhaps we all have an opportunity to be that guy I encountered in the grocery store, someone who searches for ways to elevate others. Maybe we can be confident not just in where we’re at, but in where we’re going. Possibly we can enjoy the journey of taking something: our work, our relationships, our lives to a new level. The people Collins studied were very unique, one in a million you might say. But in our own unique ways, aren’t we all one in a million?

Who is this book for? For anyone in tech, management, operations, entrepreneurship I think this is a must read. But it’s honestly an amazing book for people who want a fresh look on how to get the best out of their routines and decision making skills.

Here’s the Amazon link to Good to Great in case you want to check it out.

About Author

Brent is an expert in marketing and creating engaging digital content. He loves writing, reading, podcasting, and learning. In his spare time he enjoys traveling, serving in his Church, and photography. He is an aspiring sky diver who dislikes jumping out of planes. He is a tiny-house enthusiast, who gets claustrophobic. He values growth, leadership, and kind people.

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