The Retirement of Excellence

October 17, 2011 § 6 Comments

I was once moved and inspired by the excellence statement that circulated through ATCO from RD Southern, the company’s chairman. It goes a little something like this:

“Going far beyond the call of duty.
Doing more than others expect.
This is what excellence is all about.
It comes from striving, maintaining
the highest standards, looking after the
smallest detail and going that extra mile.
Excellence means caring. It means
making a special effort to do more.”

I left ATCO nearly a year ago, and the spirit behind this quote sticks with me. But, I heard someone else recently talking about a commitment to excellence. And I couldn’t help but feel the term is losing its significance. If you remember way back when David and I started this blog, we were talking about the meaning of words and which ones to ban from our vocabularies. I am hereby banning the word “excellence” from my vocabulary. Instead, well, instead.. I’m just going to be awesome.

Blasphemous! I know. Here’s the thing. Excellence to me has come to mean perfection and perfection is unattainable on a large scale. The perfect mix of life’s ingredients for me is not the ideal mix for you. It’s just not applicable when it comes to a larger picture.

Awesomeness, on the other hand… well, now we’re getting somewhere. Awesomeness isn’t stodgy, it’s more fluid. And it’s a word I use all too often. But it rings true with me, and it’s the first word out of my mouth when I thoroughly enjoyed something. Speaking of enjoyment, there’s another key word. Excellence is a measurement. Awesomeness is an experience. We’re not looking for the destination anymore, we want to LIVE every part of the journey.

Life is nothing more than the sum of our experiences… and at the end of mine, I’d like to look back with a smile and think “Holy shit, that was AWESOME!”

If I may:

Living life beyond the mundane of the everyday
Doing everything you can to stretch your comfort zone.
This is what awesomeness is all about.
It comes from an open mind, and open heart, maintaining
The highest commitment to self and to community and family,
Looking upon every day as a new adventure and thinking the stars are within reach.
Awesomeness means living for today. It means
Being with those you love, doing what makes you happy
And approaching everything not only with a commitment to service and quality,
But with a desire for joy, fun and life.

Live long, be well, be loved.


Pursuit Of Excellence Is Ongoing

March 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

Excellence is something that doesn’t just happen. It occurs through commitment, passion and drive to raise oneself, a team, a business or a workplace to increasingly higher levels of achievement.

It can be measured in certain ways. In a factory, for example, new processes can lead to better production. In a workplace, training can make staff more efficient.

In sport, some prudent drafting and trades can turn a mediocre team into a champion and then building an effective farm system can create visions of a dynasty akin to the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders who each won four Stanley Cups in a row in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Both of those teams did a lot of things well and other teams emulated their on-ice and management styles.

When you are building a program like Canada’s Olympic team, it is foolhardy to think in four-year segments of time. It seems that is what Canadian Olympic officials did with the Own the Podium Program when they talked in terms of a goal of leading the way in medals.

I was irritated last week when several days of competition remained in the Olympic Winter Games and already members of the media and even representatives of the Canadian Olympic Committee were questioning the program. They shouldn’t have been questioning the program, perhaps just the goals.

If navel gazing were an Olympic sport, Canada would be a powerhouse nation.

It was probably a mistake to have specific expectations like: Canada will win the medal total. However, the program did help create unprecedented excitement for the Olympics across the nation. It also instilled an attitude that we can achieve excellence across the board. I didn’t see it as a cocky approach or putting too much pressure on our athletes.

It would also be foolish to end the program based solely on some ill-conceived notion on how many medals we received. When I was growing up, I always groaned at how our athletes would be lucky to finish in the top 25 in most sports. Now top-10 and top-five finishes are commonplace. We went into this Olympics having never won a gold medal at home. Thank you, Alexandre Bilodeau for getting that monkey off our backs early on.

To me, if you are in the top 10 in the world in your chosen pursuit, you are pretty damned good and should be proud. The margin for error in any sport, particularly ones involving judging, is often miniscule.

Oh yes, there were disappointments, particularly in skiing events. but that is the nature of sport. Did everyone expect that all or most favourites would come through at the right moment? Let’s give credit to improvement by athletes from other countries.

And consider the unexpected results or the outcomes under extreme pressure.

Think about the courage of figure skater Joannie Rochette winning a bronze medal just four days after her mother died? And on the final day of the Winter Olympics, our 50-kilometre cross country ski team missed the gold by 1.6 seconds. The fifth-place finish was the best by our country in that event since a 16th in 1932.

There were some tearful responses from Canadian athletes who fell short of the expected mark. It is understandable to be disappointed. Our athletes should not feel they need to apologize to the nation when they do not finish atop the podium. They did not let the country down.

Instead of bemoaning our results, even before the Vancouver games were over, officials would have done well to talk about Own the Podium as a stepping stone to the next level of success, that Owning the Podium is just another name for a winning attitude.

It is no wonder why we have sobbing athletes apologizing to the nation when leaders of our sports programs are busy second guessing everything before the closing ceremonies have even been held.

I will borrow the name of a City of Grande Prairie initiative to suggest to Olympic Officials. Let’s call the next generation of Own the Podium … Pursuit of Excellence. That doesn’t have a short-lived expectation attached to it. The name inspires an ongoing sense that we will strive for better performances on an ongoing basis.

I, personally, don’t question the success of Own the Podium if medals are, in fact, a measuring stick. After all, we eclipsed our previous top medal count with our total of 26. Canada also set the new standard for gold medals by any nation in the Winter Olympics with 14.

And, hey, in Canada, when you win hockey gold, that has to be worth at least four or five more medals!

For those armchair critics who question the character or will to win of Canadian athletes, I suggest you pay attention to amateur athletics more than for just a two-week period every two years (Winter and Summer Games are two years apart). It is funny listening to people who are suddenly experts in short-track speedskating and skeleton when they haven’t seen the sport in four years.

To me, it is never is out of season to chant: Go Canada Go!

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