The Cult of the Extraordinary
by Jordan C. Lofton
It was my first meeting on this Monday morning and I was still sipping a cup of coffee when I heard someone use a phrase that cut through my normal morning fog. We were discussing the reality that in our current culture many are focused on leadership but few are focused on service. The idea was introduced by our facilitator who struggled to give this phenomenon a name, and then I heard it. “The Cult of the Extraordinary”. It was simple. It was profound. It was earth shaking.
As I simply listened to the discourse between the woman who coined the phrase and the facilitator who described the concept, it was clear to me that this is what many in Corporate America face every day. We have held up to us the examples of those who have achieved greatness. Michael Phelps, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, Beyonce, Tom Cruise, Ronald Reagan. While the list is inexhaustible, what we know of each person’s greatness boils down to the one thing they are known to excel in. Swimming, technology, science, song, film, politics; these singularities of each individual make them extraordinary, but they do not completely define who that person is. This focus on the extraordinary means we have failed to recognize the ordinary, not only in the lives of those who excel, but in our own lives. And sadly, in our own businesses.
Focusing On The Extraordinary
Business is often portrayed as the game of winners and losers. This leads many of us in business, rightfully so, to focus on winning and/or taking risks that allow us capture the market. In consulting, I see many times where this focus on “extraordinary success” has lead the business to miss the opportunity to do the ordinary well. Rather than focusing on the “extraordinary success” my recommendation is to focus on “excellence in the ordinary”.
“Excellence in the ordinary” may sound simple, but because of our own conditioning it’s rarely achieved. Employers who may see the value of this type of excellence struggle to communicate its importance to their employees. Employees who work diligently on the ordinary tasks that drive the engines of the business are often dismissed or unrecognized for “all the little things”. Customers may take for granted the effort that goes into delivering a wonderful customer experience, not recognizing that these little things that made the experience excellent are not always easy to achieve. In the end, the focus shifts for everyone involved. Rather than working through the pain and monotony to perfect the simple, the business shifts to the quick and dirty win which ultimately causes them to fail to be extraordinary.
Focusing On The Ordinary
How do businesses achieve “excellence in the ordinary”? Here’s the revolutionary part. To truly achieve “excellence in the ordinary” individuals must choose to be ordinary. I’m not saying a person should strive to do the bare minimum, have no drive for personal achievement, or fail to dream big. I’m saying that at each level in the organization there must be individuals who strive to do the job, the whole job, and nothing but the job, and to do that job with excellence….even if it never gets noticed.
Do you know what organizations look like who have people throughout “excelling in the ordinary”? In my professional experience, organizations who have people doing this at all levels:
- Foster a culture of reciprocity and respect
- Are focused on quality and generate quality
- Take long term positions against competitors
- Stun their customers with their willingness and ability to deliver even the little things
Ordinary People, Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Value
Here’s the truth. Most people you meet will be ordinary. Most people you work with will be ordinary. Most businesses will be ordinary. Most customers will be ordinary. Most things you do in a single day will be ordinary. It is the ordinary work of many ordinary people that creates extraordinary value.
Value may not get rewarded with a promotion. Value may not get rewarded with profit. But the only way any person or business ever became extraordinary was by repeating the ordinary until they excelled. There is nothing special about learning to swim. There is nothing special about swimming a single lap in a pool, or even competing in a single race. But there is something extraordinary about someone who did something as ordinary as swimming and repeated this ordinary task for years until the day he stood before the world with 28 Olympic medals to be recognized as an extraordinary swimmer. Long before we knew who Michael Phelps was, he chose to be ordinary. So don’t let someone not recognizing the ordinary thing you did today keep you from being the extraordinary person of tomorrow.