The Power of Words

Published on: 12 February 2013

The year 2013 has started with a bang at MiWay. Before we knew it, January has come and gone. For me personally, January is a big month – firstly, because it happens to be my birthday month and secondly, because 70.3 Ironman (“half ironman”) takes place in January. So, both came and went (with a fair amount of joy and success) and now life (work and play) is moving along at a rapid pace.

I tend to be a sucker for quotations, especially those made by famous people. A quotation often becomes a bit of a cliché, but then again, the reason why it became a cliché in the first place is because it is normally based on the truth.

There are two quotations that recently caught my eye, both creating quite a strong inner response for different reasons.

The first one said “Happiness is a short-cut to mediocrity”, from an anonymous source.

My first response was that it surely can’t be true. Don’t we all strive for happiness in our lives, our relationships, our careers? Then I got it…..if you are too easily happy or satisfied with things, if you set low standards, if you under achieve and you are still “happy” with your performance, you are indeed taking a short-cut to mediocrity.

The difference between success and failure often lies in how high you set the bar, in your definition of success. If you are not easily satisfied, you won’t be “happy” with mediocre performances, and vice versa. This means that the standards you set for yourself and your level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with your actual performance compared to those standards, determine the level of your success. In a way then, you should be wary of settling for sub-standard performances. Simply put, don’t settle for second best.

The question that arises, is: how “unhappy” do you have to be to avoid mediocrity?

Bill Gates refers to the concept of “running scared” as a means of avoiding complacency, which in turn leads to mediocrity. Andy Grove (at the time joint-CEO of Intel) authored the book “Only the paranoid survive”, where he argues that fear of failure is not necessarily a bad thing. Paul Harris, ex-CEO of Firstrand, once shared with me the fact that “mediocrity casts a shadow”…..meaning that the mediocrity of a manager/leader will eventually lead to the team’s mediocrity. I am personally not fond of ruling by fear, but I wholeheartedly agree with Paul’s view on mediocrity! In my experience, fear has the potential of paralyzing people. However, the healthy fear of failure I had for my late father certainly played a role in me making sure I made my way through university without undue delay!

In conclusion, if I’m too easily “happy” with below par performances, it will lead to complacency and eventually to mediocrity. So, looked at from that angle, it is true that “happiness is a short-cut to mediocrity”.

The second quotation that jumped up at me, is one of Jim Collins’s, namely “Whether you prevail or fail, endure or die, depends more on what you do yourself than on what the world does to you”.

This is so true. We have much more control over what happens to us than we often want to accept. I suppose it is much easier to play the blame game. Blame apartheid, blame your parents, blame your teachers, blame your manager, blame your genes, blame the church, blame God……blame everyone except yourself.

For me, the learning from these two quotations are self-explanatory: accept accountability for your own life, grab your opportunities, set high standards for yourself, dream big, do everything in your power to meet those standards and to make those dreams come true, and never, ever, settle for second best!

These are the ideas and philosophies we debate and build our culture on at MiWay. Every so often, we repeat the same mistakes and then we go back to the drawing board and start afresh. But we never give up on each other. We are one big family and we care about each other’s wellbeing and success. When we succeed, we succeed together, and we keep an eye out for each other to ensure mediocrity never becomes acceptable!

Kind regards,

René Otto