What is the difference between being good, and being great?
It something as simple, and as difficult, as 1 degree.
Here is what I mean: If you put a pot of water on the stove and heat it up, it gets hotter and hotter. When it gets to 211 degrees, it is really hot. What can you do with really hot water? Plenty, but not nearly as much if you heat it 1 degree more and turn that water into steam. At 212 degrees, with steam, you can power cars and locomotives. You can literally move mountains. Steam powers giant turbines. Steam helped clean the Gulf oil spill. At 211 degrees, all you have is hot water.
That one degree makes all the difference.
Think about Olympians. What was the difference between Michael Phelps and his record breaking eight gold medals and everyone else? In just about every race, the difference was hundredths of a second. Hundredths of a second!
So in business, sports and life, it turns out that the critical difference maker is often that last bit of extra effort.
When I write a book for instance, the first draft is very difficult. The next few drafts make it more readable. But it is the final draft where any magic that can happen, happens. It is that last little push of extra, exhausted effort that can make an idea pop or a sentence sing. It rarely happens beforehand.
Of course, the challenge is that it is hard to give things that 1 degree of extra effort, isn’t it? Usually of course, especially if you run a successful business, the way you normally do things works well. No need to fix something that which isn’t broken, right? And while true, it turns out to be equally as true that if you want to be great at what you do, it takes doing more than the regular and routine.
It takes the 1 degree of extra effort.
Consider this: From 1878 to 1880 Thomas Edison and his team considered literally thousands of different ways how to develop a light bulb, stuck as they were on finding a workable filament. Said Edison, “I tested no fewer than 6,000 vegetable growths, and ransacked the world for the most suitable filament material.” (Carbonized cotton was the breakthrough material.)
This same idea is relayed in the excellent book, Good to Great. In it, author Jim Collins famously says, “Good is the enemy of great.” And that makes sense, doesn’t it? When a business is good, there are few incentives to keep pushing, to keep experimenting and working hard and striving for more.
So no, getting from good to great is not easy. It requires hard work and dedication and vision. But it is the extra effort, the one percent, the hundredth of a second, that 1 degree, that can take your efforts over the top.
What if Edison had quit at 5,999 filaments?