In our companies we push for “peak performance.” This makes perfect sense, because want and need individuals to perform their best at work, whatever that may look like in their particular role.
But oftentimes, we get so obsessed with the “peak” that we forget about the “path.” We focus so much attention on the climbingthat we neglect to put in enough time to find the best trail up the mountain. We create a list of what we think greatness looks like (many businesses call this list “competencies”) and we demand everyone measure up. We want excellence, so we begin crying out like a prophet in the wilderness — preaching about best practices and “world-class” performance, but often not giving our people the right tools to actually achieve those things.
We’ve forgotten about the path.
The thing about a path, though, is that every person’s path is a little different.
I grew up in South Dakota, a place that is virtually guaranteed a snowstorm every winter. After the snow would blanket the ground in its soft white fabric, I remember going out the next morning to try to follow my dad’s footprints in the snow. When there’s a lot of snow on the ground, it’s much easier to put your feet into someone else’s steps — they’ve already blazed the trail and packed down the frost. But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t make my path line up perfectly with his; my shoe size is different, my stride is different. As much as I’d try to copy his steps, I’d never get it exactly right.
It’s like this in our companies, too. My path is never exactly yours, even if I try to follow right behind you.
This means we need individualized pathways for the people in our businesses. Unfortunately, however, our organizations aren’t designed for infinitely unique pathways. They’re built to homogenize and same-ify everything.
We’ll never get to greatness this way.
Peak performance can never be divorced from the path of the person trying to achieve it.
If you were a basketball coach, you wouldn’t train a point guard as a center. If you were an orchestra conductor, you wouldn’t have the first chair violinist brush up on her trumpet skills to make her a more “well-rounded performer.”
Why do we do this in business?
If we want to reach more peaks, we need to create more paths. We need an organizational system which allows us to build as many unique paths as we have people — it’s the only way we’ll really get to the top of the hill.
Outliers by Josh Allan Dykstra on March 6th, 2009
Death by Info v. Death by Ignorance (& Gummi Bears) by Josh Allan Dykstra on June 24th, 2010
How To Change The World by Josh Allan Dykstra on October 24th, 2011