Mediocrity can be a beautiful thing. A child’s first, failing attempts to stand up, can remind us that there’s a value to our striving, a beauty in our half-achievements, a reminder that we are, despite all of our technological and scientific advances, mortal and frail creatures. Human striving can stand before us as something precious, something lovely when, we find ourselves hopelessly lost, a map in front of us, the rain beginning to fall, and we have not a clue where we are. Our mediocrity can take us to places we would never have found otherwise; our mediocrity can have a certain charm about us, can make us feel humble, can be a reality check on our pride.
At work, mediocrity can be a place on a path to greater performance where we stop and reflect, rethink, re-imagine, and reframe. Mediocrity can be a necessary camp, a staging post, half way up a high mountain.
Basically, mediocrity can show and tell us all kinds of useful stuff. And most of all, it can show us how human we are.
The problem is this: in a collusion of mediocrity that persists over time, despite changes in the environment, mediocrity becomes a kind of habitual visiting place, a place of safety where we were ready for risk; a place of non-challenge, where a challenge was needed. How can we tell this? The mediocrity we experience does not have a feeling of charm or beauty about it. There’s a sense, not of warmth or loveliness, but instead a sense of disappointment, of lack, of lost opportunity. Mediocrity can be beautiful, but that beauty can soon become a masquerade parody of itself.
Identifying the authentic “gems” of mediocrity and distinguishing them from flights away from possibility, from hiding in places of “wretched contentment” (where we hide happily in the sense of safety that comes from not taking the needed risk), this is the skill of the leader. To know when to challenge the collusion because it is not a collusion of value, and is instead an ugly collusion, one which stands in the way of innovation and of climbing higher.
It is also the skill of the leader not to force us out of mediocrity if there is value to be had in exploring it, harvesting its value. Of course, this is the challenge of the times we live in where collusions of mediocrity have come so personally and organisationally endemic – to find the little diamonds hidden in all the bullshit.
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