Recently I had lunch with a client. She made a small comment that hit me big, like a right hook to my mind.
She said, “Excellence is boring.”
She went on: “I just read an article that said people who do great things keep a singular focus. They stick with one idea, building a deep expertise. They get up every day, always searching for a small advancement, an incremental improvement. In that way, excellence is boring.”
This stuck with me. It’s a powerful way to look at excellence. While I had never thought of excellence as being boring, I had noticed I admired people for focusing on one thing, once they found their one thing.
I thought of Stan Musial, playing every year for the St. Louis Cardinals, and being named to a record twenty-four All-Star games. Same team, same approach. Excellence is boring.
Then I thought of Amy Eubanks, my daughter’s high school cross country coach. In twenty-six years of coaching, she’s won the state championship twenty-one times. She uses the same workouts on the same days, every single year. She has a system. Excellence is boring.
Then I thought of my Grandfather, Ralph Goodrich, a long-time staple of Stuben County, Indiana. He graduated high school with no assets to speak of, worked hard as a laborer to save money, and bought a farm with my Grandmother in 1943. Only five years later they were showcased as one of the most efficient farms in Indiana. Excellence is boring.
Ralph raised the same trustworthy crops on his 140 acres every season, always learning, always looking to tweak his mix. He created sophisticated models of prices and yield, and kept records of every crop. He analyzed them annually, always looking to improve. Excellence is boring.
Ralph invested in the best breeds, paying more in the beginning, but getting a better return in the end. Buying Guernsey cows, White Rock chickens and Chester White pigs was expensive but wise. His farm produced far more than his peers. Excellence is boring.
Ralph invested in machines, which blows me away. Unheard of at the time, he used more than twelve electrical motors to automate his work. His milk cooler, cream separator, and welder were among the first in the county. He was always looking for efficiencies and included the value of his own time in his calculations. Excellence is boring.
Their results were exceptional. Ralph and Lois bought the farm with their own savings, barely enough to make the deal work, and they paid off the debt in less than five years. Ralph continued to buy land until he died, ever expanding the operation, ever increasing his efficiency. He was always changing, always improving. Excellence is boring.
Maybe showing up every day, working on the same things is boring. Maybe excellence is boring.
Or maybe it just appears boring from the outside. From the inside, constantly improving a singular focus makes the smallest things important, even exciting. Every improvement, worth celebration. Every advancement, worth reflection. Every tweak, worth monitoring. Every day is a chance to improve.
From the outside, watching people pursue excellence might appear boring. But from the inside, it’s different. Excellence is thrilling.