When It’s Fourth and Long—Again and Again

Even if you don’t follow the National Football League, it was hard not to appreciate the moment. Yesterday, in 11 seconds, the shortest overtime in NFL history, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow “hit wide receiver Demaryius Thomas for an electrifying 80-yard touchdown,” as AP put it, against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Game over.

Now, we here at the Drucker Exchange have already weighed in on what will surely be an eternal debate over Tebow’s skills (or lack thereof), and, in that regard, we’ve noted that Peter Drucker advocated building on strengths so as to make weaknesses irrelevant. But what about plain old mediocrity?

Last week, a piece in Grantland by the columnist Carles explored football fans’ fascination with NFL quarterbacks “whose names are synonymous with ineptitude” (Tyler PalkoRex Grossman, etc., etc.). And he suggested, provocatively, that we scrutinize them as a “subconscious coping mechanism to process our own identity in the workplace.”

“As ‘great’ as we all might think we are, we probably have more in common with a mediocre NFL quarterback than with any other athlete,” Carles asserted. “The most intense forms of competition, stress, conflict and insecurity that most of us will ever feel take place at work. We embrace mediocrity as a safety net to alleviate our minds from these uncomfortable thoughts.”

Ultimately, Carles recommended, slightly tongue-in-cheek, that we accept that we’re mediocre and try to make the best of it. It probably won’t surprise you that Drucker believed otherwise. [EXPAND More]

“Mediocre knowledge work, as a rule, is not worth having,” Drucker declared in Technology, Management, and Society. And he felt it was far better to have one first-rate knowledge worker than a few second-rate ones. “Three mediocre people produce nothing at all—they only get in each other’s way.”

And, as we’ve touched on before, Drucker saw mediocrity as an easy trap. “The first requirement of organizational health is a high demand on performance,” he wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices.

Drucker was quick to point out that “performance is not hitting the bull’s-eye with every shot.” Mistakes and failures are to be expected—and learned from. And yet “the person who consistently renders poor or mediocre performance should be removed from the job for his or her own good. People who find themselves in a job that exceeds their capacities are frustrated, harassed, anxiety-ridden people.” Keeping them on, said Drucker, is “cowardice rather than compassion.”

How do you fight mediocrity in your workplace? [/EXPAND]