Do you fit in? Are you average height? Can you cook a perfectly acceptable dinner? Are your sales figures firmly in the middle of the bell curve? Do you lead from the front or ride in the middle of the pack? There is great value in difference, but there can be great comfort in being the same. Whilst we revere expertise, we often reward the mediocre. I want to think about how we recognise and reward the average, to think about whether we drive towards mediocrity and reward people just for being the same. And if this is a good thing or not.
I’m working on a section for the book about the value of being the same. It’s easy to focus on how to drive towards performance, towards success, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes just enough is ok. Sometimes we actively reward the indifferent. It’s a strange section to write, because instinctively we want to think about how things can be improved, how we can win, but this is not always where we need to be.
Not everyone wants to stand on a pedestal, to be the leading light, the top dog or the winner. For some people, it truly is the game that counts, not the winning. For many of us, this isn’t a matter of ambition or success, failure or reprimand: it’s about what needs to be done to do the job well enough, and one could argue that this is an efficient and effective approach to learning.
Think back to maths lessons. I don’t know how many hours of purgatorial algebra i sat through, but rest assured that it was 2 (a + b) where (a) equals the number of confused children in the class and (b) equals the number of minutes till it’s all over and you can go and play Star Wars in the playground. I was never going to excel at maths, but nether was i failing. I sat firmly in the comfortable space where nobody was shouting at me, even if they should have been. This suited me just fine, as it allowed me to focus my spare energies on English, which i enjoyed. Or on Star Wars, which i also enjoyed, although in a less structured way.
Fitting in allowed me to get away with this. If I had dragged myself up to the higher echelons of arithmetic (humour me on this), then i would have drawn the spotlight of expectation. If i had slumped to the depths of the truly innumerate, i would have been hoisted off for remedial geometry. But no, i was comfortably invisible alongside and within the camaraderie of my equally disinterested and distracted classmates.
In this instance, there was great value to me in being the same, even if it’s subsequently cheated society of the benefits of my mathematical genius. Not only did the system tolerate my indifference and ignorance, it virtually rewarded it.
But you’ll note that my lack of interest in maths wasn’t driven purely by laziness (honestly…). I spent my energies elsewhere. It’s rare for people to excel in all fields and sometimes they excel in the strangest places. With limited time and limited resources, we sometimes need to decide where we are going to be the same and where we are going to focus our efforts.
Sometimes being the same can count for a lot.