Mediocrity

I was originally going to write a post on enterprise software. The gist of it was going to be: Why does enterprise software tend to suck in general? It’s not a new observation, nor a particularly interesting one, so I thought about what really bothered me with enterprise software. I think what really bothers me is mediocrity.

Mediocrity: It takes a lot less time and most people won't notice the difference until it's too late.It is easy to remove oneself from the discussion of mediocrity and place the focus on everyone else, but I can’t let myself off the hook that easy. I’ve certainly created more than my fair share of mediocre (or worse!) software. I’ve only put in mediocre effort into any number of tasks over the years. I can probably come up with many arguments to justify my mediocre efforts. I won’t do it. The point is not to justify the behavior but to examine why it happens and take action.

This week at work seemed to be one invite after another to perform mediocre work. Tasks needed to get done but it was difficult to get excited about them. Situations like these often get my checklist approach. Don’t get me wrong, checklists are not bad. But, when I get into “checklist mode”, it typically means I’m trying to make myself feel as though I’m accomplishing something even when I’m not particularly proud of the work. Sometimes there are things you just have to do. You can only change so much at one time and the changes that have to wait their turn often result in falling into that category of things that have to get done but whose quality, creativity, and inspiration will suffer as a result.

The work week ended with learning about my official responsibilities as a career counselor. I have seven people assigned to me that I’m responsible for serving as their career counselor. I’m there to listen, provide coaching, and do my part to help further each individual’s career within the company. I’d like to think that’s the approach I take regardless of whether I’m an official career counselor or simply doing my job. That last statement is one that leads me to justify mediocrity when it comes my duties as a career counselor. Telling myself that I already do the job let’s me off the hook in my own mind. I can scoff at the apparent corporate bureaucracy surrounding the career counseling program and get into my “checklist mode”. After all, I already do the job so these new activities are nothing more than overhead, right?

I decided on the way home from work on Friday that I wasn’t going to settle for mediocrity. I wanted to make the career counseling activities meaningful and fun for everyone involved. I decided right then that I wasn’t going to fill in the blanks on the career counselor intro email template that was provided. There is nothing inherently wrong with the template, but for me to simply fill in the blanks and send out the emails would certainly not meet my goals of making the career counselor activities meaningful and fun for everyone involved. So I brainstormed a bit and came up with a quick video that I’m sending out to all those I’m a career counselor for. The video isn’t the second coming of Citizen Kane, but it is completely different than the email template and (I hope) sends the message that I’m not just going through the motions; rather I’m committed to the role and the people I’m serving as their career counselor. Plus, I think the video conveys that we can all have some fun along the way. We don’t have to begrudgingly go through this process. We don’t have to settle for mediocrity, even when it can feel justifiable to do so.

  • James Lorenzen

    Man I wish my career counselor did that.

  • Joshua Hoover

    @James – LOL. You figured it out. The real reason I did this is to shame the other career counselors into stepping up their game. ;) I think your career counselor should provide each of you with your very own Oompa Loompa.

  • kit

    Interesting post Josh. The problem with medocrity is that it isn’t an issue with individuals, but rather the organization’s culture. If mediocrity is accepted it will always exist (at least the opportunity for it).

    So…you need to ensure that you call out the mediocity in others and hold your subs accountable when it strikes.

    Not a pretty picture really. Unfortunately, without mediocrity there is no exceptional, or the polar opposite.

  • kit

    I totally missed my point.

    In the commercial world mediocrity gets exposed very quickly, with things like slow sales. In the enterprise, mediocrity is accepted as an operational cost/constraint. Though, strange enough I’ve seem more mediocrity in our federal contractor space than in more general IT spaces. I suppose it is just another form of the “$600 toilet seat”.

  • Ronnie

    That’s great, but what happens when the people you are counseling settle for mediocrity? They might wish you just went through the motions. Stay motivated tho.