Todd Henry, who closed out the 2015 Great Ideas Conference, says brilliance demands not only discipline but also a willingness to confront the seven ways mediocrity can hold you back.
When organizations and teams succeed, they often go back to the same systems and processes that led to their success—even though that’s not likely to get them anywhere.
“When we go that route, pretty soon we’re fossilized and not looking where really great ideas are anymore,” said Todd Henry, the Closing General Session Speaker at ASAE’s 2015 Great Ideas Conference. “And pretty soon that slips into mediocrity, which is a place no organization or person wants to be.”
You have to be brave to do great things.
The founder of Accidental Creative and author of two books, including, most recently, Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day, Henry said that if companies and individuals want to be brilliant and constantly generate innovative ideas, they need discipline. “But discipline of bravery,” he said. “You have to be brave to do great things.”
To make that happen, you must confront and conquer Henry’s seven deadly sins of mediocrity.
Aimlessness. “When we don’t have an outcome we’re committed to, success can even feel a little bit hollow,” he said. “We have to understand the target we’re aiming for.” Henry added that you must “define your through-line,” which requires finding the productive passion that you’re willing to suffer for and commit a lot of time to so that momentum carries you through.
Boredom. “People who are busily bored and distracted stay in the middle,” Henry said, adding that distracted working is as big a problem as distracted driving. To combat boredom, people must be fiercely curious, ask the best questions, and challenge themselves to get outside their comfort zone, he said.
Comfort. “Love of comfort is the enemy of greatness,” Henry said. “There’s nothing wrong with experiencing comfort, but you can’t make it your objective. People need to be willing to do things that are uncomfortable but necessary, take strategic risks, and find their own voice.”
Delusion. Henry said many people have a false narrative of who they are and what they bring to the world. “This narrative causes people to work outside of the sweet spot: the area where they could have most impact,” he said. “People have to be honest about skills and where we can add value.” On the organizational level, Henry said, associations must ask themselves, “What is our calling card? Where can we bring the most value to our members?”
Ego. While this word is often synonymous with arrogance, Henry noted that playing the victim is a form of ego. “By putting yourself in front of the outcome you’re going toward, you’re stopping progress and will begin to regret withholding yourself,” he said. Instead, people must strive to be confidently adaptable.
Fear. When people don’t act, it’s often because they fear consequences—and by artificially raising confidence of failure, they become afraid to act. “In order to overcome this, people must ask themselves what [is] the very first seemingly risky thing they will do,” he said. People can figure this out by considering some questions: What angers you? What makes you cry? What moves you emotionally? What have you mastered? What gives you hope?
Guardedness. People are often afraid to hear the truth about themselves or even reflect on it internally, but it’s a necessity to get better. “Having people in our life willing to speak the truth to us and tell us what they really see is crucial,” he said. “We need accountability in our life.” He added that getting better is more important than being offended by something someone tells you.
Why worry about any of these places where we can get stuck? “It’s about unleashing your best work every day. Not your most quality work,” he said. “Are you doing work today that will matter in five years? Are you operating in your sweet spot or moving toward your sweet spot?”
Henry ended by encouraging attendees to “die empty.” In other words, don’t take your best work with you to the grave.
“Do work today that matters in the future,” he said. “Live your life by design, not default.”