The Pursuit of Excellence
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle
I have found this quote by Aristotle to be extremely inspiring in my life. While excellence is a subject that evokes many myriad emotions, I have found, in my limited interaction with people, that most tend to feel that it is a destination, rather than a journey or, more importantly, a way of life.
So, what then is Excellence? It is not just the simple act of being the best – it is the complex act of being appropriate, kind and considerate. Most often, people confuse excellence with being the “best”. The problem with this view is that it takes a one sided and often lopsided view of what “the best” is! To put things in perspective, I’d like to take a matter that is BOUND to create a huge backlash against me – for stating what I am going to! 🙂 I state this, knowing full well that there are going to be quite a few people who would like to take a pitching wedge (or one more of their favorite weapons to me) 🙂
Take Sachin Tendulkar’s scoring runs! There, I said it – and immediately there are quite a few people who are reading this who are getting ready to bash me up! Well, probably that’s one way of ensuring that people post their comments on my blogs, is it not?
So, Sachin Tendulkar – he who has the greatest number of runs in almost ANY FORM of cricket – I would dare say, even in “French”, “gully” and probably even “book” cricket 🙂 :). He who is surely likely to rest ONLY when he has set records that are beyond anyone, for a long long time to come. He who is considered “GOD” (what blasphemy – I was referring to the fact that a mere mortal even write about him like I am!) by many!
So, there was this “scientific study” that evaluated all batsmen from all eras, including cricket’s GOD. You can see a reference to this study at:http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/cricket/top-stories/Bradman-best-Sehwag-greater-than-Sachin-Study/articleshow/6316559.cms
This was a paper, called the “Bradman Class”, written by two economists, that analysed factors such as consistency of scoring, value of a batsman’s runs to the team and home-away record, and found that Don Bradman, the Australian great, leagues ahead of the rest on all counts. What of course did not go down well with any of Sachin’s fans was the other findings:
- Only 5 Indians qualified on the basis of batting average being higher than 50 runs!
- In none of the parameters does Sachin come at the top, even amongst Indian batsmen.
- In terms of value of runs scored to the team, Viru Sehwag is on top, followed by the much maligned and derided Rahul Dravid. “God” Sachin (please pardon the sarcasm here – just could not resist it) comes third on this list.
- In consistency again, Dravid comes first and is followed by Sachin, Gavaskar, Sehwag and Kambli (well that’s a new one, is it not? – who would have thought that a “has been / also ran” like Kambli would even find mention?)
Well, the point I am trying to make here is NOT about bad mouthing Sachin or to say that he is not good – far from it. I think he is phenomenal – to just do what he has done for over 20 years, and still have the appetite for it and achieving more and more, is simply mind blowing.
Hopefully, that statement will make Sachin’s fans put down whatever weapons they had picked up to beat me up with. And, well, that is a statement that I make with the greatest respect to a master batsmen – just that I do not think that he is GOD or that he is the best ever, not even in India. To me, (I hope people agree that I am entitled to MY opinion, even if it were at a tangent to theirs) Excellence is not in the runs that you score but whether you have acted always in a manner that looks beyind oneself – and at the greater good!
Also, I was chatting this afternoon, with my friend Kichu (there comes that name again!! 🙂 ), about Excellence! I made a statement that aiming to and living a life of excellence was a lofty goal and that everyone should aspire for it. However, when one crosses the line from excellence to being a “perfectionist”, I think then, they have lost the plot.
I’d like to narrate an incident that happened to me some years ago. I had my own BPO company in the early 90s and we were doing work for a leading multi national bank. One of the projects we took on was to send letters out to bankers of potential loan applicants to get a reference. We’d print out thousands of letters every month – and I had insisted that I would inspect every letter before it went out. While I was doing this exercise once, the client, who was also an ex-colleage and good friend was sitting in my office. I would cross out letters that were not printed properly and have them re-printed. My client asked me why I was doing that – and I mentioned that since they were “not aligned” I was getting them re-printed. I also added that I would not charge the client twice for these letters. My client remarked, “You are a perfectionist, aren’t you?” I was dumbfounded and had no words – in fact, I was a little taken aback that someone thought ME to be a perfectionist.
I mentioned this that evening to my father (God rest his soul) when we were driving back home. He gave me a knowing smile and did not respond. The next morning however, he called me in to his home office and asked me to help him with a simple task that he was doing – affixing postage stamps to some envelopes. I sat down and started doing this – and after a while, he asked me why I was looking so intently while pasting the stamps. I replied that I was making sure that the edges of the stamps were aligned to the edges of the envelope. He smiled and then asked me, “And you think that you are not a perfectionist?” It hit me like a freight train!
Which brings me back to the conversation and the revealation that dawned upon me last evening – that it was alright to try and deliver the best possible – and when it crosses the line and becomes an obsession, one tends to become a tyrant. And, as Kichu says, it is alright for one to be righteous, however, when they become self-righteous and start imposing and demanding the same standards from others, then they ARE a tyrant.
Excellence then CANNOT in anyway be read to mean “perfect” – it can ONLY be read to mean “appropriateness” and high quality – read integrity and consideration. I believe that when Aristotle says “we have those because we have acted rightly”, he actualls means “we have those because we have acted appropriately”.
Delivering the best quality does not mean that one has to make a sacrifice, or that they have to hurt themselves – it just means that one has to be considerate to all concerned, including themselves. If they were otherwise, then it is a much lower emotion (Pride) that take precedence over appropriateness.
So, does this mean that one must deliver “chalta hai” or “its alright as long as it passes muster” quality? NO, and that is a most emphatic NO. What you deliver MUST always be the best that one can deliver, given circumstances – however, that does not mean that one needs to hurt for delivering such.
The key is that one must do what they want to do, and whetever one does that benefits a larger number of people is bound to be something that gives them success and fulfillment. To end this rather longish blog (you can stop yawning now), let me leave you with another of my favorite quotes – one that is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better; whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success.”
May GOD go with you always! And thanks much for stopping by here!