We Live in a World of Extremes (Whether You Like It or Not)
It’s One Thing, or Another…
On my way home from a meeting this week, I was reflecting on our tendency to polarise things, rather than find alignment.
Do we naturally create extremes in order to have a comparison? And why do we pay less attention to what happens in the middle?
Here's the scenario:
Earlier this year I did some work with Deborah, the Director of a non-profit (a charity, as we're more likely to call them in the UK).
She came to me because the organisation she headed up was in a crisis; they desperately needed funds, their old sources of grant funding were drying up, new funds seemed hard to acquire, and, to top it all, the Board of Trustees was failing to function as she wanted.
And this seems typical of some or the organisations I come across in the non-profit world.
Organisations that are shrinking, that are under-resourced, with staff who struggle to stay motivated, organisations which face conflict or apathy at the board level, and really, one might say, are taking a final few breaths before they close or merge.
With all the energy they are expending on just 'staying alive' it seems there is little left over for those they serve.
Fast-forward to my meeting this week and the situation could not be more different.
I'd been facilitating an inner circle meeting for donors to non-profit that is definitely at the other end of the success spectrum.
This organisation is thriving; growing in both reach and reputation, with staff who buzz with enthusiasm and exude positivity about the contribution they are making through the organisation's powerful mission.
Everyone is alive with the energy of their impact.
Is this polarity real, or imagined?
In my mind, these extremes seem very real -- the thriving versus the struggling -- with very little in-between.
My guess, though, is that although the non-profit world may be a little more polarised than some, my impression of the divide doesn't reflect reality.
There will be many organisations that are doing 'OK'; that have enough money, where staff feel pretty content with what they do, and that don't face immediate threat of closure.
The truth is simply that we notice those at the extremes more than we notice those in the middle.
We don't notice 'average'.
In school, the children who are 'average' performers tend to go unnoticed. They're not bright enough to stand out and they don't misbehave enough to take up a lot of staff time and attention.
This will be true in your world -- whether it's your business or your career.
People are more likely to notice you if you're at an extreme.
It could be that you have an extreme opinion, or maybe you provide fantastic customer service that goes well beyond the norm. Maybe you're just brilliant at what you do: the 'lynchpin' as Seth Godin calls it.
Or, it could be the reverse -- maybe you get noticed for failure!
And—here's the rub—whichever end of the extreme you are, you will stand out—and people will talk about you. And that ‘talk’ will be based on what’s in their mind, not what is actually true for you. For most people this is hugely uncomfortable.
Just as I was doing -- creating my own perception of the dying-struggling divide and contrasting those two non-profit organisations I'd come to know well -- people will do this with you and your business, or the job you're doing.
It's natural, and being successful definitely won't make you immune from attention.
In fact, being average is the place to be if you don't want to stand out.
As Oscar Wilde said (with a healthy dose of tongue in cheek!),
There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
The easy way to 'not' be talked about is to embrace average.
Don't speak out, don't voice your opinion, don't say anything that 'most people' might take issue or disagree with. Choose to be ignored.
Success Happens at the Edge
But average isn't where the biggest successes and the greatest learning comes from.
I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that those people who strive to be in alignment with who they are, and to find their performance edge, are those who make the biggest difference. These are the innovators, the bold, those who choose to create the world they want to live in.
Which means they sometimes find themselves at the 'extreme'.
These are the people who create thriving organisations, who bring an energy that is contagious, who create a positive cycle of commitment and success.
I'm not saying it's always easy to maintain growth and positivity but, when you consider the alternatives, why would we choose not to?
Why not go all out to do what you want, to create what you want to create?
It's what the people I work with are choosing to do.
P.S. And Deborah? I'll tell you how that worked out in another post ;)