Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Paradox of Excellence

Tom and Sara DeLong have an interesting new article in Harvard Business Review.   They examine why many capable and intelligent professionals are not as productive or satisfied as they could be.  The authors argue:

"They're reluctant to ask important questions or try new approaches that push them outside their comfort zones. For high achievers, looking stupid or incompetent is anathema. So they stick to the tasks they're good at, even while the rest of the organization may be passing them by. In short, they'd rather do the wrong thing well than do the right thing poorly."

The authors go on to argue that the fault here doesn't only rest with the individuals.  It also rests with leaders who have created a climate that may not encourage people to move outside their comfort zone. Certain climates simply make people very hesitant to experiment.  Beyond that, though, I would argue that our education system, at times, contributes to this problem.  We don't always push our students outside of their comfort zone enough, and we allow students to "ride their strengths" much of the time...rather than making it safe for them to on challenges for which the risk of failure is high. 

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