Mental Model: The Expectation of Excellence

Somehow, what troubles people isn’t so much being average as settling for it. Everyone knows that averageness is, for most of us, our fate. . . . And so I push to make myself the best. If I’m not the best already, I believe wholeheartedly that I will be. And you expect that of me, too. Whatever the next round of numbers may say. (Atul Gawande)

Gawande set out to understand what makes patient results for some physicians multiple times better than for others. His findings are documented in his book Better, published in 2007. The above quote encapsulates the essence that binds the various attributes of top performers’ mental model. Top performers don’t settle; they continuously look for ways to improve and for opportunities to learn from others how to up their game, incrementally and often.

Our favorite example was a top performer in a global organization; we’ll call him Roger. Roger’s results were an order of magnitude better than the other thousand people in the same role. When we finish collecting data and formulate a draft profile documenting what sets the top performers apart, we submit our report for review to all the people we interviewed. We expected Roger, like most people, to give us some minor comments to help us polish the profile. But, to our surprise, that’s not what happened. Instead, we received several pages of detailed analysis and feedback. Roger had called in his entire support team and spent most of a day discussing, evaluating, and improving the profile. One of the most enlightening comments we received was about how much he and his team were able to learn from the lessons of others. As we reflected on that comment, we realized it was no accident that the top global performer was also the one who spent the most energy and focus learning from others.

In our series on the mental model of top performers, this trait stands alone. Top performers continually strive for improvement. They are never satisfied with the level they achieve,  so they never settle for the status quo; they never settle for what others might consider good enough. Top performers push ahead not from a fear of failure but from a true sense of curiosity and the drive to learn from others. This behavior leads to a quiet confidence and a willingness to embrace each challenge as a new opportunity to learn.

Question to Ponder: In what areas are you settling for average versus striving for excellence?

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