Excellence ... Lessons from Sting

Like Sting?  Watch the full Sting: Kennedy Center Honors 2014 video clip.  Just want to learn what it takes to really achieve excellence in your chosen field?  Watch the first few minutes of the video clip.

In the opening remarks Meryl Streep pays tribute to Sting’s contribution with some observations that offer an insight into his success.  Here’s an extract:

“With all the gifts he’s been given … he’s still sort of ‘scowlie’ … still unsatisfied, he’s restless, unsettled, gazing off to the side, ‘what don’t I know, what’s left to discover’”

Here is a man who by any measure has extraordinary talent.  And yet, to produce an extraordinary lifetime’s contribution in his field, he has worked relentlessly, searching, never satisfied.  Always asking himself: what else?

Not persuaded?  Discount this on the basis he 'just' has immense talent? 

Well, more than a decade ago Andrew Denton hosted his TV series “Enough Rope”.  At the end of the series he pulled together a collection of his ‘best of’ interviews with a remarkable group of high achievers.  I remember Bill Clinton and Bono, but there were about 8-10 in the series. 

But what stuck with me over the years was his observation about what it was that made these people so successful.  His observation was that these people worked incredibly hard every day at being the best in the world in whatever was their particular domain.  You also got that same sense of restless pursuit of excellence, but also a mindset that ‘excellence’ was always something these people were reaching for, never that they had actually achieved the goal. 

His observation bears a remarkable resemblance to the observations of Meryl Streep. 

There are useful insights here for each of us at both the personal and organisational level. 

But the pursuit of ‘excellence’ in our organisations should come with a product warning: “you don’t have to strive for excellence.  Life offers many opportunities to do quite well being competent.  It’s just that if you are not willing to do what it takes to achieve excellence you probably should just shut up about it” (David Maister: Strategy and the Fat Smoker)