I entered the energy utility business at about the time Tom Peters wrote his book, In Search of Excellence. It wasn’t long after Tom Collins came out with his series on business excellence, that I heard countless speakers at industry conferences challenging mediocrity. In 1990, Lexus entered the US car market with the bold tag-line “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection,” distinguishing its brand with their stated commitment to striving to be the best. As consultants, my wife Susan and I were working with electric and gas utilities who were excited about new ideas and trying new approaches. You could feel the mood in the offices, conference rooms, and cubicles, and it was intoxicating. There was a spirit of adventure and exploration.
Well, it seems that’s over. Nice memories! This morning’s lead article in the Wall Street Journal was “Mediocrity is Now Mandatory.” Have we lost our collective minds? Is this going to continue the legacy of all those before us? Or is this just the final admission that the phrase “no child left behind” has spilled over and now applies to all of life including business?
Because I didn’t have the college prep classes at my high school, I struggled at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for my first four years. I had a steep learning curve. The Chemical Engineering curriculum was tough. I was warned only half of us would graduate. But, I wanted to graduate and was willing to suck it up, put in the long, tedious hours studying, and did graduate. I eventually caught up and went on to earn a masters in chemical engineering and a masters in operations research. So, I became an applied mathematician and spent my career first designing power plants for our Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet, then leading the Hospital Association of New York as Deputy Director setting care standards for doctors and patients in hundreds of major hospitals in New York City, and later serving the energy utility industry. But, I would not have had those careers if mediocrity was acceptable in any of these places.
The article opens with, “Has an era of American mediocrity begun? In January the College Board announced it would eliminate the essay portion of the SAT, as well as all of the separate SAT subject tests. Their stated purpose was ‘reducing and simplifying demands on students.’ Such a burden.”
I understand that now cursive writing is not being taught and will disappear … yet I think that is wrong …
Now, according to the WSJ, testing to decide who should go to college and who should not might be on its way out too.
Pray for this to just be a passing phase in our political processes!
In any event, you have to admit: you really can’t make this kind of stuff up!