What is technical excellence anyway? part 2

Here’s another thought about defining technical excellence:  excellence is being better today than yesterday.  I love this idea because there is an element of striving, of trying new things, and possibly making mistakes along the way.  Being better today than yesterday puts excellence into which ever context we find ourselves in.   What is excellent for me, isn’t necessarily excellence for you and vice versa.

You could argue that there is a baseline for excellence, a level of acceptability.  I probably wouldn’t argue with you too much on that point.  But I would argue that there needs to be some flexibility on where this line is, based on each of our abilities and our experiences.  I would also say that if my ability and my experience create feedback at every event I am apart of, there is a problem.

Being better today than yesterday requires mistakes to be made and risks to be taken.  However, if we make the same mistakes over and over again, how can we say that we are achieving excellence?  But if we make mistakes and make adjustments for them not to happen again, now we are moving the line of excellence.

I was once training someone in the role of technical director, and he kept making the same mistake several times in a row, and each time, in the moment, I’d step in to talk about how to improve.  Then, during a break, he asked me how he was doing and I said “I’m ready for us to make a new mistake.”

In order to achieve excellence, we need to be ready to make mistakes.  When mistakes happen, we need to let the mistakes make us better today than we were yesterday.

Are you open to mistakes happening?  Are you getting better as a result of them?

Be excellent.

  • Steven Shoup

    A number of years ago, about 3 weeks after starting a new job, I specified a certain custom tool for a customer – a very expensive custom tool. The tool finally came in from manufacturing and the customer had a small machine and I had specified a special tool for a large machine. I had to tell my boss that I had made a $7,000 MISTAKE that we had to eat. This was over 25% of my salary at the time.

    So after not sleeping all night I build up the courage to go into his office to tell him. He sits there just listening to me. When I am finished he says “It is about time. I have been waiting for you to make a mistake. I was afraid that you were not working”… “If you are doing your job and working hard you are bound to make mistakes”… then he asked me “Your not going to make that $7,000 mistake again are you?”

    I have never made that mistake again but there have been others in my career and I learned from each of them.