Zero-Sum Greatness?

   Conventional wisdom insists that there are only so many hours in the day, so if you plan on working really hard to be remarkable on one aspect of what you do, other things must suffer. But I'm not so sure about that anymore.

   In the zero-sum calculation, only those who are exceptionally talented, intelligent, or whatever can achieve greatness because the rest of us are doing well to keep all the balls in the air. Give too much attention to one ball, and you'll drop some of the others, or so the story goes.

   But I've seen, again and again, where a company becomes exceptional focusing on one issue, and other aspects of the company are lifted instead of being brought down. The latest example is a restaurant in San Francisco. Wanda and I were celebrating our 30th anniversary a couple weeks ago, and spent four days at the Stanford Court, near the top of Nob Hill.

   We arrived mid-afternoon and stopped by Aurea, which is the Stanford Court's in-house restaurant, for refreshments before heading out on a long walk. The decor of the place felt a lot like home, which is South Beach, but it wasn't particularly remarkable in this regard... it could have been any of 50 restaurants on South Beach. What was immediately remarkable was their focus on local food. Matter of fact, their entire menu is ringed with the names of the food and wine suppliers from the region from which they are provisioned. This caught our eye because our Original Green initiative is based in part on what we call Nourishable Places, where the food comes from very close by.

   Because of this, we kept coming back. And in the process, we discovered that their service was simply the best we experienced while in San Francisco. Because it was our anniversary trip, we ate at several other highly-regarded restaurants... but we kept coming back to the little place in the hotel simply because they treated us better.

   So I began to wonder... is it possible that a strong commitment to being remarkable in one thing (in this case, local food) doesn't detract from other aspects of the business, like the zero-sum formula would suggest, but instead elevates the other aspects (in this case, both the service and the quality of the food.) In-house restaurants are notoriously ordinary, but this little place was anything but.

   Here's how I'm suggesting it works: an extraordinary commitment to excellence in one aspect of business can foster extraordinary commitment... period. The act of having to be remarkable in one thing can make it easier to be remarkable in other things because you're creating an atmosphere of remarkableness. "It's just how we do things," might be one way to put it.

   I really believe this might be correct... or at least, I hope it is. If so, then it's something anyone can choose to do: be remarkable in one thing, and watch it spread to other things.

© 2012 The Guild Foundation Press