Paul Sylvestre's Business Strategy and Marketing Blog

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Damned by Faint Praise

My high school English teacher, the grumpy old man that he was, did every once in awhile offer some pearls of wisdom that only now I can begin to appreciate.

My teacher said "If you are questioning whether you should use me as a college reference, don't worry, I won't say anything bad. But I may damn you with faint praise."

...and then he smiled; one of those acerbic, sadistic smiles.

Yeah, he was kind of a jerk. But whatever his motivation, it was a great life lesson. In this fast paced and hypercompetitive world, there is no room (or tolerance) for average performance, effort, or anything that you have committed to doing. Now more than ever, someone else can be found to step up to the plate and make the extraordinary happen. We live in an environment where you are only as good as your last few projects. There is very little time allowed for resting on past successes.

I've always considered the words "average" or "fine" as equivalent to "poor" or "shoddy". While some critics will argue that setting a high bar causes undue stress, there is something to be gained for those who believe in continual growth and improvement. When someone says "it's fine", consider it a wake up call. Set the bar higher than you normally would.

The carrot is that doing this will give you more satisfaction in life. But there's also a stick...in terms of reputation, greatness has a short life, while a bad one stays around much longer.