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What Do We Perpetuate?

“It is no harder to build something great than to build something good. It might be statistically more rare to reach greatness, but it does not require more suffering than perpetuating mediocrity.” – Jim Collins, Good to Great

Good to Great came out twenty years ago this year. It’s interesting to see how the companies Collins writes about transformed over twenty years, but lately I’m thinking more about how I’ve transformed over those twenty years since reading it. Reading through it with fresh eyes, I linger on the personal challenges now, less the diagnostics of what makes a company or its leader “great”. The real question in this book is, do we perpetuate greatness in our own lives, or do we perpetuate mediocrity?

In answering that question, the next question might naturally be, how do we perpetuate greatness in our own lives? What is our standard for ourselves? And how do we take meaningful steps towards greatness and shake the mediocrity out of our routines and mindset? The answer, of course, lies in action.

“Yes, turning good into great takes energy, but the building of momentum adds more energy back into the pool than it takes out.”

There’s the tricky part: turning good into great. Doing the work. Aligning yourself with the key “why” of what you do, the why that inspires you to slog through the tedious, to shake loose the mediocre and reach for something more. It’s easy to read a book on moving a company or ourselves from good to great. What comes after is hard. How many thousands of people read Collin’s book over the last twenty years? How many reached greatness? After twenty years it warrants self-examination and maybe reassessment.

Everyone has their own definition of success, or greatness for that matter. For some it means a great relationship or family life or washboard abs. For others it’s a C-level title and a house in an exclusive neighborhood. We all have our why. And it defines what we do to reach for greatness. What is your goal? Family, grades, professional or athletic career, relationship… what are you really reaching for, what’s your why?

We must push our personal flywheels for seemingly forever to build some measure of momentum. And when you stop pushing you lose it. It’s a tricky thing, that momentum: It works for you when you keep going, and even for a short time after you stop. But when you get too comfortable and stop pushing for too long the momentum is gone. Without it, what have you got? If you wallow too long, you have mediocrity. Personally, I haven’t had washboard abs in years. But they’re hiding in there waiting for me to push harder.

Collins has a phrase that lingers for these twenty years: “Good is the enemy of great.” The battle between good enough and reaching a profound place of mastery and excellence comes down to that question: what do we perpetuate in our own lives? How hard are we pushing for more? For our most compelling whys (the right flywheel for us), pushing harder seems the only answer.

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