“It’s raining. Again.” It’s the classic tag line to the start of any conversation in London (or the whole of the UK for that matter). Having a moan about the weather seems to come par for the course when you live here, and how can it not be when the sun shining is such a rare commodity? You learn quickly to savour brief rays at any glimpse or else risk not soaking up that Vitamin D for another couple weeks.
The conversation is common, and the words are often even identical. Today, however, I heard the way Britons deal with this ever-common occurrence of grey and drizzly described in a way I hadn’t yet encountered.
“Britons are great at dealing with mediocrity.”
The man saying it was referring to the consistently dull and dripping sky, the fact that whenever the UK gets anything more than a couple of inches of rain (or God forbid, a flake of snow), everything seems to come to a screeching halt.
But step back and look at that sentence. What if as a whole, people are as bad as Britons and their weather, and are only great at being ordinary? What if we are only capable enough to get out of bed each day and walk into a building where we will inevitably press ‘go’ on a list of to-do items which will likely have no material impact on anything 10 years from now? What if the addition of a few inches of innovation or change here or there sends us all into a panic, worrying that our jobs are in jeopardy or our livelihood at risk?
All around us are examples of people who are trying to step above the ordinary – entrepreneurs taking the leap to start new businesses, innovate technology and launch new services aimed at making our otherwise ordinary lives extraordinary. Some of these innovators succeed. But the fact is, most of these people will fail. They will be pushed back to being great at mediocrity, reserved to being able to pursue enough to put food on a table and rent money in the bank each month.
Shikhar Ghosh, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, compiled a study of 2,000 companies that received funding from 2004-2010 (most of which had received at least $1M in initial funding). His findings showed that roughly 3 out of 4 start ups fail, and 30-40% end up liquidating all assets and causing their investors to loose all of their money. For a multitude of reasons, those 75% were unable to in that moment achieve something greater than mediocrity.
But what if what they actually failed to do was embrace being great at mediocrity? Think about it this way: it is estimated that in the US, about 96% percent of people are employees (working to achieve someone else’s dream). The remaining 4% actually own a business, and if Mr. Ghosh’s findings are accurate, that means only about 1% will still have a successful business in 3-10 years (they are rough estimates meant to illustrate the forthcoming point so stick with me here…).
What this means is that 99% of the population in the US is great at being mediocre, so instead of viewing this as a negative thing (rainy London weather), what if being great at mediocrity could equate to the beams of sunshine every now and then.
Don’t get me wrong, inspiration, innovation and constant attempts to rise above mediocrity are necessary for progression. But what if what those 3 of 4 companies failed to see was the role mediocrity played in the success of their dream? Every company needs those people who are really good at pushing paper, who excel at typing recap reports, and who can organize a calendar to a point of an OCD diagnosis.
If you desire to be so and if you are willing to have that relentless drive which affords you a place in the sun, then be great and strive to rise above and be that 1% who succeeds. But don’t dismiss the mediocrity all around you as anything less than the reason you have achieved long term success.
This world is great at dealing with mediocrity. Let’s celebrate that rather then condemn it, and let’s empower those who are really good at dealing with those ordinary situations with respect because even though they might look like a bunch of mundane grey clouds, it is how they move which sometimes provides breaks for the sun to shine through.