It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us.
Isaac DIsraeli, Curiosities of Literature (1834)
My piano teacher loved to talk. I discovered this each week when I had to sit down with her to demonstrate the skills I had learned the previous week.
I would arrive just in time with my stack of music books and a carefully planned list of potential discussion topics. When it came time to play my first song, I would straighten my back, confidently position my fingers and turn to my teacher.
Thats when I would ask her the big questionthe question that always warranted not just a yes or no, but a 10-minute discussion which prompted further questions and more discussion. My 45-minute lesson inevitably would last roughly 20 minutes.
I was clever, indeed. As long as I could engage her in conversation, I didnt have to play the piano for her. And as long as I didnt have to play, I didnt have to practice.
Ten years of lessons later and I demonstrated the skills of a five-year student. Not that it mattered much, because I was smart enough to quit just before my required high school recital.
I have to admit I thought about that one day while sitting in a Grove City College auditorium listening to my baby brother perform as any 10-year student-turned-concert-pianist should. Instead of playing outside after school, he practiced. Instead of talking his way through his lessons, he played. He ultimately graduated from college with a dual teaching degree that included music.
In the end, I embraced my limitations. He didnt. I found an easy way out. He didnt. I accepted mediocrity when it came to playing the piano. He didnt. Today, I play Chopsticks. He wont.
Thats whats great about mediocrity. It requires no effortno risk. You sacrifice little. You let no one down because they dont expect much from you anyhow. The best part is that you will fit in with most others in your class or business or society. Most of your peers will revel in mediocrity.
However, as our annual Who To Watch special report attests, there are always those few who rise above mediocrity and aim for the excellent. They work 18 hours a day. They constantly innovate. They invest their intellect, their homes and their lives. They know their limitations, yet choose to ignore them. They transform industries. And lives.
Certainly, plenty of mediocre entrepreneurs and their companies continue to survive and exist. They talk a good game, dress the part and continue on, in much the same way their predecessors did. But theyre only half the companies they could be because they take the easy approach. They dont innovate. They aim for industry averages. They embrace mediocrity. They skip the big recital.
You wont see that mentality at any of the companies featured in SBN as those to watch this year. These entrepreneurs set goals well beyond industry averages. They all are reaching for excellence, for market leadership. And regardless of the outcome, they just keeping reaching.
Some will make it, others wont, but they still keep reaching. They set the standard for the economic success of this region. Thats why I think the eight we selected, though not alone in their search for excellence, are worth watching. And perhaps learning from.
As you enter this new year and head toward this new millennium, I encourage all of you to reach a little higher, to break out of this world of mediocrity, to practice instead of just talking about it. To stick around for the big recital.
Today, as my piano repertoire consists of "Itsy Bitsy Spider," "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and a few bars of Chopin, I wish I had.
So it goes for mediocrity.