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Be Warned: Tolerance is the Enemy of Excellence

Tolerance is a virtue, but how can we avoid ‘good enough’ and mediocrity in the name of worthwhile work and excellence?

I’ve been fascinated in the last week or so by a recent question on the HBR LinkedIn group: Does Perfection Exist?

A simple three word question that is far from simple to answer.

Responses range from the highly philosophical (‘only in the infinite realm’) to the practical organisation level (‘optimising effort to return’). Most helpful for me was the ensuing reflection on the difference between excellence and perfection.

Perfection is a moment in time. Excellence is a way of being.

Having been told in no uncertain terms by my publisher that it was time to let my book go to print, I was forced to acknowledge that continuing the quest for perfection in one project was damaging my quest for excellence in all areas of my life.

Excellence is Your Best


You see, I fundamentally believe that we should always strive to be our best and to fulfil our potential.

Not to do so is to sell ourselves short, to somehow settle for less and live the fraction of a life we might have in store.

I’m not talking about the shadow side of this, looking for external validation of our achievements for our sense of self-worth. It’s about showing up every day and taking pride, in caring about the quality of what we do, and the impact it has on the world.

The Shadow Side of Tolerance

Having lived abroad for several stints during my life, one of the qualities I continue to appreciate about being in the UK is our tolerance as a society.

It is certainly one of our strengths. Having lunch with a Californian friend who lives in Mallorca earlier this week, she mentioned how strolling through one part of London reminded her of being in Tel Aviv.

But the problem with tolerance is that it can be passive. As a society we have tolerated the rise of fundamentalism, we tolerated the banking crisis (Iceland was the only country which had the guts to expel the top echelon of their banking sector) and we tolerate the status quo.

we are selling ourselves short of excellence.

In the name of speed and time to market, we are selling ourselves short of excellence; in the name of ‘good enough’ we are prioritising mediocrity over professionalism.

Excellence Leads to Value

This does not lead to fulfilling or worthwhile work. People want to feel like the work they’re doing has value.

Value defined by the impact it has on people’s lives and the world at large, rather than its place on a report. We are not metrics in a production line, we are human beings with infinite potential.

And the world needs that potential to be realised.

Of course in many areas of our lives and society tolerance is a virtue. But let’s be less tolerant of ‘good enough’ and look for areas of our lives to be excellent – our future literally depends on it.

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Comments (2)

  1. I’ve long believed that life is too short for mediocre business, and if you are going to do something then we should all seek to be remarkable. The reality is that so much is mediocre that when we do things at our best we do stand out, and it is remarked on.

    I agree that one thing that is remarkable here in the UK is our tolerance, and I also agree that has a dark side when we are tolerant of what could easily be better.

    Thanks for a great thought provoking post.

    • I love the word remarkable William. Remarkable inspires, it sends a tingle or shiver down the spine or stops you dead in your tracks. I also abhor the celebrity culture we have, that somehow gives people permission to live their lives vicariously through others, rather than empowering them to be remarkable (truly remarkable!) in their own lives. Thanks for commenting.

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