This morning I was reading an article by James Altucher in which he was talking about what it takes to become as good as you can be at something. It was an interesting article, I find a lot of what Altucher writes to be pretty interesting. But there was one thing in it that took me off onto a tangent that I found of particular significance.
If you're in the top 1% of any particular ability on this planet that really only means you have to be as good as 70 million other people. His statement around it was, 'that seems doable.' On one level I can't find anything to fault with his argument. Then I started to think about it some more. What am I better at than 99% of the rest of humanity? What am I better at that I can say six billion, nine-hundred seventy million people don't hold at candle up to me? That's where my mind boggled.
You see, I'm really quite good at a lot of things. Really I'm an excellent all-around-er. But I don't really know that I'm incredible at any one thing. If someone comes to me and asks me what my absolute best skill is I don't think I could come up with a good answer. I could list off some of the things that I excel at: I'm quite witty and come up with good comebacks really quite fast on a very regular basis, I lead my teams pretty well into being high performers who like their job, myself their company, I am quite good about focusing on quality in process and software, I'm a really good cuddler.... See the list is a little sad when you start to put it down.
I know that there are a lot of you out there that have a skill that you've found and nurtured and worked on and while you may not come in first all the time when you compete, even if you're top 5 on a regular (or hell even irregular basis), you're likely in that 1%. I applaud this and you should really consider it in this fashion before you get depressed that you don't win more often. Realistically, if you run in iron-mans and come dead last each and every time, you're in the 1% because there aren't 70 million people out there doing iron-mans and you've got to be better than most of the people who've never done one.
But to be better than over six billion other people at something? I don't really compete on a wider scale on anything so there's not really any meaningful measuring stick with which to gauge myself. The closest I really come is in my career. I'm pretty damned good at what I do. Am I the best? Heck no. Could I improve, heck yes. Do I try to improve on a regular basis, of course, but certainly not with the single-mindedness that gets someone like Serena Williams to the top of her game. Do I need to be in the top 1% at something? I'd like to be for sure. In order to be able to claim that and back it up, I'd have to either prove it in some way or just decide that that was something I could say and argue reasonably. That takes some level of ego that isn't really me. It also probably relates to my QA brain, if you make a statement you're serious about, there'd better be some factual basis for it.
One of our core values at Hootsuite is 'leading with humility.' I think that this means that you don't have to think you're the best at something or even say you're the best. Instead what it means, I think, is that you strive to be the best in what you do and put yourself out there while doing it. Everyone watching you can learn from the things that you do that work as well as learning from the things that you do that don't work. If you work in a manner that allows for the notion that you are always looking to find a better way, then that's really the only example you need to provide. If you're not doing it the best manner and you've embraced leading with humility and always looking for a better way then the people following your lead will be willing to form a community that can help you improve. Respect is definitely a merit based system. Earn it in all you do but being the best is only one path to respect.
It helps if you're pretty good at what you do when you start so that people do look to you to lead. It helps even more if you're in that top 1%. Everyone wants more successes than fails so when we hire we really try for that 1%. I'm not sure that when we hire, though, that we try to hire people that think they are in the 1%. Reducing ego's in our work culture is another of our strong goals. So am I the best of the best at what I do? Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. It really doesn't matter when you come right down to it. Best is simply the demonstrable goal. I'm still daunted by the 1% though.