Good Is The Enemy of Great

Coming back home for Thanksgiving has led to an enlightening experience. While waiting in the airport, I happened to stop at a bookstore and pick up a copy of Good to Great by Jim Collins. While I’m currently only halfway done reading the book, I would highly recommend it to everyone, even if you’re not interested in business. In fact, the title of this section is named after a quote in the book (if you want an explanation, please read the book).

While reading and learning, the only comparable medium to a business I could focus on was myself. In particular, I focused on my tenlist, since it reflects my ambitions for this season. I have come to realize that my tenlist, especially the earlier ones, have/had too much divergence. In other words, they lack a clear focus of ambitions, except maybe in a few areas such as updating this blog and working on Zems. While many of these endeavors are “good” endeavors (in my opinion), none of them leave me the capacity to become “great” within the timeframes given.

Jack-Of-All-Trades vs. The Specialist

Everyone admires the jack-of-all-trades, the person who can do everything and do them all well. But consider a group of people, each of whom is very good at one thing. In time, this group of people will surpass even the most talented person, simply because each person in the group will slowly improve and become better than the jack-of-all-trades in every skill. I’m not saying people should be narrowly-minded – after all, being good at only a small set of skills will not get you very far in this world. Instead, I believe we should think of our ambitions in terms of what we can accomplish in our lifetime.

Let’s consider an example. If you want to be a great artist, but not as your primary profession, you’re going to have to devote a long time to practicing art and maybe even taking courses. And when I say long, I don’t mean a few years, I mean a decade or more – only if you already possess an innate talent for art can you become a great artist in only a few years. Considering most of us don’t have this innate expressive skill, we should then ask ourselves whether we are willing to invest the amount of time needed to gain the artistic skills we want. If the answer is no, then it’s probably not a good idea to even consider delving in art too much.

Perhaps what I’m saying is this: There will always be people in the world who are willing to invest the time and effort to become great, not just good, at the things you don’t particularly have time for. If you spend your own precious time trying to acquire skills you can’t afford (time-wise), you will only be good at things. You will not be great, because you already have more important things in your life. Instead, what we should focus on are the things we have a passion for, even if we initially aren’t good at them. Innate interest can propel you forever, but talent can only go so far if you’re not enthusiastic. Instead of trying to become good at lots of things, try to be great at a few things. In the end, your passion and your specialization will land you a job over others who are simply good, and others will see you as a much greater asset since you are not just a slider who happens to do a lot of things relatively well.

Focused Individuals Working Together = Success

There will always be skills you need, but do not have, unless you are willing to settle for mediocrity. In virtually all of these cases, there is a collaborative medium, usually money or the bond of friendship. For people who have spectacular dreams, the path of greatest success lies in assembling (often times, hiring) a team of great, specially-focused people to collaborate their efforts. By having specialists do certain small jobs, you minimize the chances of confusion and arguments among members of the team. In the end, this generally leads to a faster and much more efficient final product, one everyone will more than likely be proud of.

For me, this means hiring freelancers to handle tasks such as design since I am absolutely terrible at them. Sure, I could learn how to design and save a bunch of money later down the road, but in the end the money spent on the designers who have been working for decades is much better spent than the time and effort I put in to acquire skills they have already mastered. It doesn’t make practical sense when you look at it from a distant, holistic perspective.

Most of my dreams so far have been self-centered, self-accomplishing endeavors with me standing alone in the spotlight. But having come to the realizations mentioned in this post, they are turning into dreams where a group stands in the spotlight, with each person having contributed a small, special portion to the overall whole. I just happen to be one of the people standing in the group.