Best of the bad

Sep 15 2005 by René Da Costa Print This Article

What does it take to float at the top of a constantly rising sea? What would happen to your performance if you could exclude those days where you just can't seem to get it together? It's easier then you think!

Success is built on a foundation of a core competency. As a manager you recognise your key skills and have worked hard to improve them. Having spent a decade or more honing and leveraging off that core competency your progress has unexpectedly stalled. What to do now?

To move from successful to exceptional requires a subtle strategy shift. Up to now you have concentrated solely on those things you do well, your core competency. That is considered conventional wisdom. I'm sorry to tell you that conventional wisdom is tantamount to mediocrity. Don't fall for it.

Conventional wisdom is tantamount to mediocrity. Don't fall for it
Instead adopt a policy of all-embracing augmentation. Look to those things that you don't do as well and develop ways to improve them. Make a note of what happens on the bad days and learn how to do better.

What makes one person exceptional while another never strays from 'doing alright' is not the sum of what they do well, but the subtraction of what they don't do as well.

Planning a picnic with the expectation of a sunny day is overly optimistic. To plan an exceptional career based only on those times when you can use your exceptional gift is simplistic and flawed.

Imagine a highly gifted actor. Now consider what circumstances he or she needs to really leverage off that talent. They must be fortunate enough to find the right project with an excellent script, director and supporting crew led by producers with enough power and funding to make it happen.

Let's assume a shoot time of three months. The initial audition and rehearsal time adds another month. We constantly hear actors complain of working days lasting up to 16 hours. However, they might only spend two or three hours per day actually acting and even that time is dependent on the competence of the supporting cast.

Now, add a month of pre-publicity before the film is released and another month looking for your next project. In a six-month period, on average, you are only likely to spend eight per cent of your working hours on your core competence, acting.

Let's brainstorm some of the other skills and attributes you might need to show: patience, confidence, courtesy, fitness, planning, and adaptability to name a few. Chances are you will often be bored for long periods before turning on the sparkle and graciously answering yet more inane chat show questions.

Failing to adapt successfully to changing roles outside of your core competency will result in fewer and fewer opportunities to show your talents in the role you want most.

Maybe, your focus is on improving your acting abilities. As the pre-eminent will testify, the more successful you are the harder it is to improve. Imagine you are at 80 per cent of your potential as an actor and each percentage point increase takes an investment of 1,000 man-hours. That's a lot of effort for not much reward; a one per cent improvement in just eight per cent of what it takes to be exceptional in your chosen field.

Exceptional people score highly across disciplines and if you choose to neglect the skills needed for 92 per cent of what it takes to build a superior career then you are more likely to end with one to match Brad Pitt's forgotten brother, Cole.

Maths was never my favourite discipline but that is one calculation I just can afford to ignore. Can you?


About The Author

René Da Costa
René Da Costa

René Da Costa is an author and consultant.