Those striving for and maintaining excellence constantly
want to know more—get to the next level.
Early in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth referenced a 1980s sociological study titled “The Mundanity of Excellence.” Intrigued by the title, I followed the citation and read the study by Dan Chambliss.
Chambliss, after having studied competitive swimmers, concluded that “Excellence is mundane. Superlative performance is really a confluences of dozens of small skills and activities…and each of those tasks seems small…that have been learned and consistently practiced…So, the ‘little things’ really do count” (p. 81).
He found that excellence goes beyond talent to the triumvirate of technique, discipline, and attitude. The “winners don’t choke” because they consistently practice like it’s the real thing.” And they do one more thing: They go beyond sheer numbers of hours of practice to the quality of that practice.
Yes, hard work is necessary but excellence is not just about doing more [quantitative improvement]. There is a need for “qualitative improvements which produce significant changes in the level of achievement” (p. 83).
So excellence is about continually striving to do better by doing the little things over and over and over again. Then moving to something a little bit tougher. And doing it over and over and over again.
Hence the mundanity of excellence. Ordinary tasks taken to extraordinary levels.
Duckworth writes about being “distracted by talent” (p. 15). Chambliss presents his evidence as to “why talent does not led to excellence” (p. 78). They both found with their research that it can become easy (an excuse) to simply say that some people are just naturally gifted (talented) and that is why they perform at a top level. There is more to the equation.
Example. My good friend Billy Bowers has a natural talent for music. What he added to my two CDs with his lead guitar riffs, rhythm colorizations, and bass bottom reflects a gifted musician. No question. But to chalk it up to simply, “Oh, he has talent” would be a gross injustice. Billy has honed and raised his craft and talent to new levels for decades. He plays a gig for four hours and then comes home and practices. And he does it over and over. The whole package makes for excellence. (NOTE: When I called Billy to make sure my characterization above was accurate, what was he doing? Reading about guitars. He is an habitual learner by reading, watching, listening, doing—and repeating.)
And I think the excellent ones around us stay in the student mode. The late architect Frank Lloyd Wright reportedly said that “An expert is someone who has stopped learning because ‘he knows’.” Those striving for and maintaining excellence constantly want to know more—get to the next level. Or as Chambliss said, they make quantitative and qualitative leaps.
Think of excellence as embodying effort, focus, tweaks, caring, focus, and action.
Over and over and over.
Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.
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My books Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff? (3rd edition) are published by Pearson Education.
(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.