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Escape the Mediocrity Trap


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These are the slides I used at the SXSW2018 presentation. The illustrator is my good friend John Conroy. The audio file of my presentation is here.

Published in: Leadership & Management

Escape the Mediocrity Trap

  1. 1. #mediocritytrap
  2. 2. Many things strike me as mediocre… #mediocritytrap
  3. 3. Canned email responses
  4. 4. Storage Facilities
  5. 5. Killing Time #mediocritytrap
  6. 6. Living Life to be Entertained
  7. 7. Let’s talk about definitions…
  8. 8. …the general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind. John Stuart Mill
  9. 9. • If BETTER is within your reach and you choose to settle for less, you are settling for mediocrity. Scott Williams • To be mediocre is to be completely lacking in distinction or imagination. Adrian Furnham • Mediocrity consists of central group practices performed around the average whose repetition result in their embeddedness in a group. ~Joseph Hermanowicz • Survival of the fittest isn’t a progression toward greatness. It just means the survival of the sufficiently non-terrible. ~Oliver Burkeman
  10. 10. Drivers of Mediocrity • Consistency • Decision Making • Strategery Defeating Mediocrity • As a Grunt • As a so-called Leader
  11. 11. Consistency is the Virtue of Mediocrity
  12. 12. Cult of Decision Making
  13. 13. Decision Making is Overrated! • Real Men Make Decisions Quickly and Firmly • Others Who Don’t are Weak • Real Men Never Change Their Minds • And Others Who Do are Weak #mediocritytrap
  14. 14. Over-Deciding is a Thing When you treat everything like an exception, then nothing is an exception #mediocritytrap
  15. 15. Under-Deciding is also a Thing Any decision is better than no decision. Your colleagues can compensate for your Stupidity. #mediocritytrap
  16. 16. Strategery #mediocritytrap
  17. 17. Most Organizations don’t make Strategy…they make Platitudes “We follow the money and uncover big deals”
  18. 18. Real Strategies Choose to Stop doing some Things and Start doing Others! Sentimentality is a Dead End
  19. 19. Learn more at
  20. 20. Mediocrity is an Individual Choice… • Show up as Yourself • Give and Accept Critical Feedback • Give Positive Feedback • Understand the Logic of Others • Do Hard Things in Small Ways • Ask Stupid Questions • Accept Discomfort #mediocritytrap
  21. 21. Ask Stupid Questions Admitting what you don’t know is essential to improvement. Find a thinking buddy who is your cognitive opposite.
  22. 22. Get Comfortable with being Uncomfortable!
  23. 23. …but Managers institutionalize Mediocrity • Seek Disagreement • Avoid Best Practice • Invite Controversy • Avoid Safety • Evaluate Priorities not Costs • Let People do what they’re Good at • Reject Status Quo Calendar • Reject Smooth Operations #mediocritytrap
  24. 24. Reject the Status Quo’s Calendar Calendar and Schedules are most important weapons of the powers that be. Be wary of the Status Quo’s ruler.
  25. 25. Adopt the 10% Rule of Change If it’s already good, make it better
  26. 26. Regression to the Mean is a Thing #mediocritytrap
  27. 27. Formulas are not Solutions #mediocritytrap
  28. 28. #mediocritytrap