A valued commodity.

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How many companies are there out there who are content that a project has been processed and has left its premises. Content that the appropriate wheels have been greased, meetings have been had and that the relevant backs have been patted. Most of us have worked in such environments. I myself have worked for such an organisation and there comes a time when it suddenly dawns on you that you’re working in a culture of box-ticking, where quality is a bonus and mediocrity is tolerated.

A senior partner at a design agency I used to work for would regularly enthuse to me that he had brought in a project at the beginning of the week, had bypassed the designers, went directly into production, was printed and sent to the client just ten days later. He’d say ‘look at this project Paul – it didn’t touch the sides and we made profit in doing so’. Why did he enthuse so much about this? To his sense of business acumen he was making a ‘fast buck’. But at what cost? Was his companys’ reputation not worth more? Are we not judged by our weakest piece of work? Should mediocrity be exchanged for perceived commercial security?

However frustrating it may be to work within such cultures and however in contrast it may be to our own professional ethics it cannot be said to be wrong. It’s just how that particular company wanted to operate and we, as employees, get to chose whether we want to move on to a new company or set up our own business in the pursuit of more rewarding environments. I strongly believe though that rather than perceiving mediocrity as negative it should be embraced. Why embrace mediocrity? Why embrace middle-of-the-road? Because how else do we scale success when confronted with the exceptional, the outstanding and the extraordinary. Paul Arden (in his book ‘It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be’) puts it rather neatly by adding: ‘There is little demand in the commercial world for excellence. There is much more demand for mediocrity.

The truth is, I’m glad it’s this way. Imagine a world where all clients were wonderful, where there were no internal political compromises, where we could produce whatever we felt like with no restrictions, with everybody having the freedom to produce all their fantasies unfettered by tedious clients. What would we do? We would react against it, saying, ‘Isn’t this boring’. That’s the nature of the creative person. All creative people need something to rebel against, it’s what gives their lives excitement and even a perceived sense of meaning, and it’s creative people who make the clients’ lives exciting.’

The truth is that, like excellence, mediocrity is not one stable marker that we can all use to gauge quality. It’s a constantly shifting marker that keeps the more conscientious professionals alert.

The challenge here though is to create an environment whereby we and our colleagues can pull in the same direction, that the stamina exists for collective excellence. Nobody will ever claim that this is easy to create but it’s surely worth the effort… to create a space in which self expression can breath and not be stifled. That excellence, in all forms, is a commodity that businesses value as much as profit.

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