Those are the two business extremes in my brain… Mediocrity and Greatness. I actually believe there are few that live in those extremes, though it often seems like many do. Our world is either drawn to the dummies (so we can feel better about ourselves), or to the few that are crazy great (so we can extol them and begin our worship). If you are one of the regular people like me that “have good intentions” then I classify you as Trying Hard. On the scale ofMediocrity to Greatness, I guess Trying Hard is a little closer to Mediocrity than Greatness. What’s dead in the middle? I guess Jim Collins would say Good is dead in the middle between Mediocrity and Greatness (I don’t know, just guessing). But we all know Mr. Collins wants you to move away from Good to Greatness.
Now that we’ve established the authoritative Jason’s Level of Business Acumen Scale, we can move on to examples of these two extremes. When we are done, can you answer this question? On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being Mediocre and 10 being Great, where do you rate yourself?
Benchmarking is Mediocre – It is amazing how poor practices, or habits, can take hold in our lives, or our profession. Benchmarking is one of those poor practices, and I’m not sure how it came into existence. Benchmarking is essentially comparing your company to a slew of other businesses like yours to establish best practices. Best practices is akin to “I’m going to do it, because everyone else is doing it.” I can hear my Mom now – “if all your friend’s jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” Seems our profession is eager to go jump off of the same bridge. Though opposed to best practices, I do believe in shared practices, the idea of sharing what is working for you, and allowing your profession to adapt what you are doing to their firm and their strategy. But the idea of benchmarking towards best practices only allows you to stay in line with what the general population is doing… and that will never lead to greatness. As my friend Dave Onkels, leader of the innovative Dotvita agency, says – “I won’t look to the side when I can look ahead!”
A common practice in the profession of public accounting is billing by time, which comes directly out of benchmarking. Our clients know to compare CPAs by how much they charge by the hour because we all do it. But this form of benchmarking has driven innovation out of our profession (how do you put ‘innovation’ on a timesheet?), left us looking at each other (comparing our rates) instead of our customer, and caused us to become too comfortable in our inability to price and communicate our value.
Experimenting is Greatness – by definition, experimentation is an attempt to discover the unknown. The word ‘unknown’ is the key. While mediocrity stays in the comfortable (i.e., benchmarking and best practices), greatness leads people toward the unknown, or the edge of what is know as possible. The crazy great (think Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Gutenberg and my homeboy Luca) do amazing things like this. They change history. You can’t change history without experimentation. In fact, experimentation is an investment in the future. Experimenters may use tools from the past, but then they move on to answer “what else?”
Experimentation and failure are two sides of the same coin. Isn’t it understood in the very action of experimentation that you will also fail at times? You must fail. Else, how will you know what not to do? You must know what not to do, thus, you must embrace failure. Can you list Steve Job’s 5 biggest mistakes? Nope. Can you list his reasons for greatness? Yep. Can you list Thomas Edison’s 2,998 mistakes? Nope. Can you list his one main achievement of greatness? Yep. The path to greatness is through failure, walking hand in hand with its brother, experimentation.
I’m personally fearful that our profession is so scared of doing things wrong, that most will never know what it feels like to create the firm they want, work only with the team and clients that they want and make the amount of money they want to make. You can create a firm that has never existed before. You can become so different (great) that you get to pick who you work with, and yes, you can make a lot more money than you are making right now, because great firms deliver much greater value than mediocre firms. You must step out and do things differently, try new things, blow stuff up (BSU) and begin molding your future.
Don’t wait to begin experimenting. What one scary thing can you do in 2014 that will set you apart from everyone else?