In Good to Great, Jim Collins kicks off his book with the statement “Good is the enemy of great.” In other words, once you hit ‘good enough’ there is less pressure to improve.
I agree. But I would argue the opposite is also true. Great is the enemy of good.
Take Dwight Howard.
(Note to my non-basketball-fan readers: Stick with me. This is going somewhere, I promise.)
Dwight Howard is the starting center for the Orlando Magic. He’s phenomenal, the best center in the game right now. If you’re talking about great current NBA players, he’s going to be part of the conversation.
Last week Dwight had himself a heckuva game in a win against Golden State: 45 points and 23 rebounds. Those are big numbers. Not only that, he broke a record that had stood for decades: he attempted 39 foul shots in the game (Wilt Chamberlain held the record since the 1960s with 34 attempts).
It’s an interesting record, because it’s both a compliment and an insult to be fouled that much. The compliment: we can’t really stop you any other way, so we’re going to foul you. The insult: we think you’re so bad at your foul shots that we’re willing to put you on the line 39 times because you won’t make us pay for it.
Guess what… they were right. Dwight only made 21 of his 39 attempts. An All-Star being paid millions of dollars to play basketball, standing 15 feet away from the hoop with no one guarding him, barely made half of his shots.
That’s the problem with greatness. Because Dwight is so incredibly great, he doesn’t bother working on the things that would make him fundamentally good. And it doesn’t really bother him. In a post-game interview, Dwight said:
“I just tried to be aggressive and get to the line. I didn’t care if I missed 30. I was still going to go up there and shoot the next one with confidence.”
You could take the ‘all’s well that ends well’ approach and shrug off the misses, since the Magic ultimately won. But if I’m Dwight’s teammate, with the Warriors breathing down our necks as the minutes tick down, I’m sure going to care that he is leaving easy points on the table.
Because greatness doesn’t absolve you from the responsibility to be fundamentally good. And that’s the lesson for all of us.
Being a superb CFO means you take the time to learn basic business strategy, not just ROI.
Becoming a great surgeon means you work on your people skills, not just your cutting skills.
Designing a next-generation hybrid car means including comfortable seats, not just the latest technology.
So by all means, pursue greatness. But don’t forget to be good while you’re at it.