Toward the end of Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc., Catmull includes a chapter dedicated to tech and design legend Steve Jobs. In that chapter, Catmull shares an exchange between Jobs and a Pixar director where Jobs compares the characters in a film in progress to Saturday morning cartoon characters.
Now I am a fan of Saturday morning cartoons. Some of the best hours of my life were spent in front of a television as subversive references to historical, social and racial issues flew right over my head. However, I understand the point Jobs was trying to communicate. And I agree with it.
Far too often, we (individuals and institutions) are focusing on being just slightly better than the mediocrity that surrounds us. We look at products, services, consultants, blogs, books, films and everything else, and think to ourselves, “Well, I can do better than that.” And that’s where the problem begins. Being slightly better than mediocre is not good. It’s just slightly less mediocre.
What I champion, in my personal and professional life, is a commitment to excellence. I talk about it in staff meetings at least once a month, and I am always trying to figure out what steps and chances we need to realize the excellence we are capable of as professionals and as a business. Here’s one very important distinguishing point. Excellence does not mean being better than person X or company Y – at least not in my book. Excellence is a commitment to putting everything you have into every project that you work on and always seeking new ways to improve – no matter how small.
I am excited to watch the significant growth of every member of our team, and I am constantly considering new ways to help them develop the skills they want to sharpen. And internally, we strive not to be slightly better than firms similar in size to FCG but to be excellent designers, strategists, creatives and consultants that provide valuable insight and end products to our clients. That doesn’t meant we don’t watch Saturday morning cartoon characters (i.e. we understand we are in a competitive environment). It means we know that our work, and how we approach that work, has to be examined from a much different perspective. And that, I believe, is what has helped us grow over the past five years and will help us to continue grow well into the future.
P.S. The Hong Kong Phooey picture is because it was a great cartoon. That is all.
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