Thursday, April 1, 2010

Raising The Bar

Nugget For The Noggin
Raising The Bar
By Jim “Gymbeaux” Brown, April 1, 2010

What does “raising the bar” really mean? Pulled this definition off the Internet:

You have a bar (FIGURATIVELY!). It represents a STANDARD, something to get over (at this point you may well imagine the high jump or pole vault contest in track and field). Once achieved this standard remains unchanged over a period of time. Then someone “raises the bar” tries again and succeeds. All of a sudden more is expected to meet the “new” standard. This extra could be absolutely anything. That’s the beauty of the concept. Use your imagination. Before anyone could go to university! Now they have raised the bar; you need to be intelligent!

Using the high jump as an example, it was not that long ago that anyone who could jump over 6 feet high was considered a record holder at that height. Over time, techniques and equipment improved, people in general became larger, faster and more agile and now high jumpers jump well over 7 feet. The same is true for pole vaulters. Each year athletes “raise the bar” ever so slightly and jump even higher.

It has been my sporting experience that there are self-imposed barriers. For example, I can remember when people thought no one would ever run a 4-minute mile, jump over 6 feet high or pole value over 15 feet. All these records have fallen. Did you notice? “4” minute mile? “6” feet? “15” feet? People tend to establish barriers at almost predictable measurements. In golf people talk about “breaking 100” meaning they shoot 99 or less; or breaking 90, or 80. You never hear someone say they are going to break 85 for example.

Now think about the Law of Attraction. You tend to bring into your life that which you think of most. Therefore if everyone (figuratively) says you cannot run a mile in less than 4 minutes that is what most people thought about. Few people were not restricted by such thinking and tried anyway. Along comes Roger Banister and he ran the first sub 4-minute mile. Once he did it, it only took a couple of weeks before the next person and then the next person and then the next person ran sub 4-minute miles. So what is the next barrier? Actually it became the 3 minute, 50 second mile.

In golf, if you typically shoot between 95 and 100, why would you set a goal to break 90? Why not set a goal to break 95, then 94, and then 93 and before you know it you are breaking 90. Then what? 88? 85?

Before you can “raise the bar” what must you know? You must know where the bar is set now. What is the “acceptable” standard whether it is in sports, business or life in general? What do you accept as your standard? How did you come to accept that particular standard? Who set it; did you or did someone set it for you? Why did you come to accept whatever it is you currently accept? Can you do better?

Now there’s a question for the ages; can you do better? Well can you? Is there anything you currently do that cannot be done better? If that is so, what is keeping you from doing better? Let’s count the reasons:

  1. You don’t really believe you can do any better.
  2. Someone, maybe the voice inside your head, has convinced you can’t do any better.
  3. You believe that if you do better someone, maybe even you, might expect you to do better every time; not just this time.
  4. Maybe you relate doing better to being compensated for what you do or, “I’m not getting paid to do this.”
  5. You believe that the more I do the more I will be given to do therefore why do more or better?
  6. Unconsciously you don’t know there is a “better” to actually do; what you are doing is acceptable (to whom?).
  7. One of my personal favorites is “Close enough for government work!” Therefore there is no incentive to do better.
  8. What’s in it for me if I do better?
  9. No one is really looking, why go the extra mile?
  10. Another one of my personal favorites as this applied to me in high school back in…… If I do better I will be considered a geek and people like those on the football and basketball teams will not want to include me in their activities. Sound familiar? Hope not; was for me.

Can you come up with more? I know I sound like a broken record when it comes to the 80/20 rule but it applies to raising the bar as it applies to everything in life. If statistics could be maintained, it would be my guess that 80% of people would accept the standards that 80% of the people currently experience. While the 80% are doing whatever they are doing, what are the remaining 20% doing? I can say with certainty, they are doing what the 80% are doing plus a “little bit more!”

Why would anyone ever want to be in the 80% group who are obviously satisfied with the status quo? What is to be gained by being like everyone else? It may take a while to answer that so I’ll wait…..

See if you can equate to my logic. When I became an instructor in the U. S. Coast Guard I was tasked with teaching people how to complete their paperwork, imagine that for those who know me. We would actually grade people on how accurate they completed a form(s) or process an event. Students would get an A, B, C, D and F just like millions of students for hundreds of years. The first thing I did was change the grading system. Instead of having a student prepare a form and get a grade of 70% or a C, I would mark the areas of the form(s) the student failed to properly prepare or calculate and then return it to the student not with the correct answers but simply the areas that were incorrect. It was up to the student, with an open book, to properly complete the form and return it for review. As in the first case I would mark up the form(s) and if incorrect, return them to the student to try again. It was the same with every form and every procedure. The student would be graded not on each form but rather how many times it took him or her to get it correct.

I can remember it as if it were yesterday when the Training Officer called me into his office to ask me what on earth I was doing. He called me crazy. I told him that a passing grade for the school was 70% and he agreed; it was 70%. Then I said, “Sir, if I were teaching students to be dental technicians, would you want someone who passed with a 70% grade working in your mouth or would you want someone who did it right the first time working in your mouth?” Before he could answer I then asked, “Sir, let’s look at it another way. If I were teaching payroll and accounting, would you want someone calculating your pay check who passed the school with a 70% or would you prefer someone who knew how to do it right the first time?”

The silence was deafening! He agreed. The only problem we then faced was how many times would we permit a student to keep trying to get it right before we came to the conclusion that he or she was just not cut out for what was being taught. After all, not everyone has the motivation and intelligence to be a brain surgeon, plumber or pay clerk. I can tell you that the quality of the graduating students improved when they understood that the standard, or where the “bar was set” was what they were expected to achieve when performing their work. Anything less is unacceptable; anything more, commendable!

Whenever you are performing work, providing a service, or providing a product for someone else, where do you set your bar? Do you set it where the 80% reside or do you set it where the 20% flourish? I’m just asking. You tell me. If you think the work you do is satisfactory or “good enough for _______”, is it really? If the shoe were on the other foot and you were the customer and someone else was performing at the level they considered as satisfactory, would it be satisfactory for you?

Is it possible to set the bar too high? Is it possible to run a 4-minute mile? Absolutely! Is it possible to run a 3-minute mile? Not yet!

Here is another way to think about it. I took my one and only hot air balloon ride with a pilot and one other person, a lot older than I was. It was magnificent but the actual ride is for another story. It was getting dark and the wind had taken us north over forests instead of south over clear pastures. With the sun setting we were definitely in trouble and you could sense that in the change of attitude and presence of the balloon pilot.

“There”, he shouted as he pointed to a very small clearing surrounded by a fence and with one large oak tree in the center. He let the air out of the balloon as much as he safely could and we descended so fast I think it was a little more than he safely could. We landed very hard and the basket turned on its side and dragged us for quite a distance but we managed to get on the ground, not hit the tree or the fence. We had made it slightly bruised but alive.

But wait, we landed in a coral not a pasture and there was a very large and very angry bull in the coral. We were in BIG trouble. Like the joke you hear about one hiker shifting to his running shoes not to out run the bear but to out run his fellow hiker, I felt I was faced with that choice. Neither the pilot nor the passenger was as young as I and neither one able to out run the bull. With only seconds to spare, I decided that I could attract the bull’s attention and get him to chase me while the other two could get to safety on the other side of the fence. I had one chance and that was to beat the bull to the oak tree. So screaming to get the bull’s attention plus the fact that I was scared to death I began a bee-line to the tree with the bull on my tail, literally. It was really getting dark but I could see a low hanging branch about 10 feet high and if I could only reach that branch I could escape the bull.

Running as fast as I could and to this day I remember the heat of bull breath on my neck, that’s an exaggeration but I swear I could feel it. As I neared the tree I jumped with all my power to grab hold of that life-saving branch.

Since I am telling you this story, you can safely assume that the bull did not kill me. As I said, I ran faster than I had ever run and I jumped higher than I had ever jumped – I missed the branch; after all it was over 10 feet in the air. But much to my surprise, I caught it coming down.

Most of that story is true and the part about catching the branch on the way down is not but it serves my purpose in this Nugget. It is perfectly permissible to shoot for the moon and it is perfectly permissible not to make it because who knows what star you might latch onto on the way up or down. The standard or the bar should be perfection. Anything less is like the student passing with 70%.

I have one question for everyone who reads this Nugget. Would you want a dentist working in your mouth who obtained his or her dental degree with a grade of 70%? I’ll wait for your answer…..

When you have a position where people rely on you and your failure could cost them money or as was in the case of the Coast Guard even their life, it is incumbent on you not to score a 70% but to score a 100%; every time! Remember, if the shoe were on the other foot you would expect nor would you accept anything less than 100%, am I not right on this?

Never accept ordinary or the minimum because ordinary and/or the minimum will never make you great; it will only put you in the 80%. More importantly, you cannot expect others to give you 100% if you do not expect the same from yourself when working for another person’s best interests.