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Does Our Fascination With “Greatness” Undermine Engagement?




[Does Our Fascination With “Greatness” Undermine Engagement? New post from Tom Miller – President and founder of Symbolist. You can read more about him and where he’ll be this year on our Leadership page.]

Nick D’Aloisio.

I read about him in the Wall Street Journal this weekend.  He was new to me, but if you’re heavy in to tech, you’ve probably heard about him – a British born Australian who started and sold a few tech companies and is worth tens of millions of dollars.  A genius for sure and, from what I have read, a good kid (I’m old enough to use that term almost regardless of someone’s real age).  He’s been doing amazing things with his brain since he was in diapers and now he’s an entrepreneurial veteran at 19.  The WSJ used a significant amount of ink to talk about him.

Tiger Woods just got paid a bunch of money to play in an obscure golf tournament in Turkey (the tourney is not obscure anymore!).  Part of the gig was him hitting a golf ball across the Bosphorus Bridge – which means he hit the ball from Europe to Asia.  Tiger has been doing this kind of stuff for awhile.  He was just shy of his third birthday when he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show to demonstrate his golf skills.

I’m pretty sure I won’t be appearing in the pages of the WSJ and even surer I won’t be paid millions to hit a golf ball across a bridge – or anywhere else for that matter.

There are a lot of other people we could put in the “prodigy” category – people with crazy athletic skills or freakish intellects.  Among the over 7 billion people in the world, there are probably enough of these folks we could take over Las Vegas and hold a huge convention (sort of like the Consumer Electronics Show, but smarter).

I’m sure the media would provide heavy coverage of the conference and we’d get snippets of brilliant thinking in the form of TED talks, we’d be entertained by people climbing tall buildings and diving off of them with itty bitty parachutes. We’d watch exhibitions of basketball dunks, golf shots and feats of strength (sort of like Festivus) that few could even comprehend.  We’d see people singing, dancing, twerking, speaking and spinning in ways that we would have never thought of.

A veritable Yahoo Home page of Living Human Greatness all in one location.

So if all the people we gawk at, talk about and revere take over Vegas and engage in three days of exceptional revelry – would the world keep spinning?

Something tells me it would…

Individual Contributors

See, the world in fact, actually runs based on the work from those of us who would not be in Vegas that weekend.

I don’t like the concept of an “average” person – I think we’re all made (insert God/Darwin/nothing here – it all works) with something that makes us a special individual human being.  It’s highly unlikely that thing will cause us to be world famous – but it will enable us to contribute to the body of work we all call “Life”.

And that’s a big deal…  Everybody matters.

I’m not against freaky smart people or world-class athletes (even those people that have more “average” mental/physical skills, but possess an incredible ability to focus are, in my book, outliers) – I just think we spend too much time trying to benchmark them as if what they do is something that should be emulated or is reproducible by the vast majority of us.

Organizations will do well to help the people that walk in their doors each day (both literally and virtually) understand how they contribute to the organization and what they do, individually, that’s special.

We all have it within ourselves to be special and we all want to be “known”.  But, too often, companies want to highlight the “freaks” within their walls that do things that, frankly, very few others have the ability to do.  All well and good to acknowledge special talents – but don’t position one person as better or as more important than another.

We are all important.  That is the key to real employee engagement.


2 responses to “Does Our Fascination With “Greatness” Undermine Engagement?”

  1. r/ally says:

    There are plenty of really smart people who never accomplish anything because they never apply themselves. For 99% of the world, it comes down to execution, not the idea.