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Sometimes Mediocrity Won’t Cut It

There is a small discussion going on about how some people choose mediocrity for their careers. I started to leave a comment but realized that I’d love to separate it out from the other issues addressed in that post. Let’s get some laser focus in on this thing and let some of my super smart readers take a shot at this issue. I’ll go over where I stand on this issue to start off.

You want to choose mediocrity? Cool with me. Do me a favor though? Just identify yourself at the door. It will make my job much easier in the end because I will place you in a position that has a higher tolerance for mediocrity. For some positions, doing your job and going home is adequate. For some positions, it isn’t adequate but you can tolerate it because you pay them less, it is less consequential (but not inconsequential) or whatever. For some positions, mediocrity won’t cut it. Period. End of sentence. No exceptions.

Nobody wants a mediocre doctor. Or a mediocre airplane pilot. Or a mediocre lawyer. And while I am certain that there are some mediocre folks in every one of those fields, my feeling is that reputable firms aim to avoid a pattern of mediocrity. After all, if too many of your patients die, too many planes fall from the sky or too many cases are lost, you won’t have to worry about a career path. It will just have ended itself.

(Just a quick note here: There is a difference between being mediocre and being ranked lower within your organization. I think the worst doctor at the Mayo Clinic is unlikely to be a mediocre doctor. Similarly, the guy warming the bench on the worst NBA team in the league can still beat 99% of the world in basketball. If you’ve ever seen my physical response to forced ranking performance management systems, now you know why.)

If you choose mediocrity, you are choosing career limitation. For some, there is peace with that decision. For others, there is outrage that you have to be limited because you chose what you chose. I don’t care what you pick. Unless I want to hire you. Then I care just enough to figure out where to put you.

Here’s a clue if you’ve chosen mediocrity and you don’t like the consequences: deal with it or change your game. Because you have no choice. Mediocre people placed in positions where mediocrity can’t be tolerated are eaten alive.

Even typically ancillary positions within an organization can have their tolerance for average work be impacted. How do mediocre recruiters find rockstar talent? It is dumb luck if they get any. If you don’t pay bills on time and your supply line seizes up, it doesn’t matter if you have that rockstar ops manager. So the more your organization is relied upon by others either in life or death situations, those that impact livelihoods, or those that serve society, your tolerance for mediocrity goes down to nothing. Unless you’re the government of course.

What are your thoughts on this?