Photo by Engin Akyurt: https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-white-dartboard-1552617/
There was a gold star on the top of the page and the two “0s” had little dots in them with a smile drawn underneath them. It was a 100% smiley face. That’s how well I did on my second grade math test.
I snap out of the memory and stare at the spreadsheet on my iPad. It is evaluations of my keynotes and workshops from summer conferences.
I click the top of a column to organize the data with the highest scores first. There are a lot of them and I smile as I read through the comments. They are filled with high praise. I swipe down the screen and the numbers go from “perfect fives” to “above average fours,” then a few “average threes,” and a handful of “needs work twos.” It ends with a couple of “I didn’t like this guy at all ones.”
And that is where I get fixated.
I spend more time in the scant land of the “ones” than I did in the bountiful land of the four and fives. I read each comment, slowly, like someone eating ghost pepper buffalo wings. Each bite is horrifically painful, but I keep going back.
“Mediocre at best.”
“I was hoping this workshop would go deeper, but it was just too surface. I walked out. Disappointing.”
“I didn’t get anything practical out of this at all.”
The comments are few, and overwhelmingly outnumbered by all the other positive feedback. But I keeping reading them over and over.
I desire and I fear 100%. We have a confusing relationship. Since that first perfect test I put it into my mind that 100% was the goal. I want the smiley face and gold star. I want to get every question right.
Life isn’t a math test, though. It doesn’t present us with questions that are a matter of fact, but are a choice of the will and preference. When I stand on a stage to speak, I am not answering questions with verifiable answers; I am presenting thoughts, opinions, philosophy and religion from my unique perspective and point of view.
Getting 100% in that realm is nearly impossible and, in moments it is achieved, may signal something completely different than a “perfect performance.”
I once told my team that their homework between our all team meetings was to create something that someone wouldn’t like.
The team of creatives looked back at me with skepticism. Shouldn’t we be striving to create things that everybody likes and appeal to all?
There is a difference in creating something deliberately offensive and something that someone won’t like and turning in work that is just poor. When we create something that we know someone won’t like we are being decisive; we are making decisions that leave behind perfect and embrace remarkable.
Someone has to not like us. We need to create things, take stances, and present points of view that make a few people give us a “1” when we get our feedback.
I don’t want to be a “vanilla” speaker or writer. Everyone likes vanilla. A few people might even order it when presented with a more “elaborate” option, like Cookie Dough Explosion or Caramel Nut Burst (what is the tie in with ice cream and pyrotechnics, anyway?). But most people like vanilla because it is inoffensive. But you don’t find anyone that is fanatical about vanilla.
When you get into a conversation about the best ice cream flavor, nobody in that group is going to take a strong stand for the most ordinary of flavors.
The only way to get 100% approval of anything is to be vanilla, but that 100% approval is really just a failure. It is everyone saying, “Yup, you created something OK. We like it, but also aren’t going to be fanatical about it and probably won’t remember it.”
I fear 100% because if I get perfect scores, it means I didn’t do my job. It means I didn’t create something that would make people excited, but also make a few people turn away or even be offended.
The reason I had those low scores was because at that conference I presented on a controversial topic. It was hard to do, and the way I presented it had the potential to offend people on both sides of the issue, and it did. But it was the way it needed to be presented. All of my negative feedback came from that one workshop.
I didn’t get 100%, but I succeeded. A lot of my positive feedback also came from that one workshop.
I created something that people didn’t like – but that a lot of people did like.
That is the challenge of 100%. We learn in school that we want to strive the 4.0 GPA, but in real life we need to be pursuing “remarkable” instead. Remarkable is going to turn some people off, maybe upset some people, and it could even be considered offensive.
But if a few people are upset, it means you are doing something right. If a few people say, “Meh, it just isn’t for me,” it probably means there are a lot more people saying, “Yes, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for.”
We should fear 100%, because a perfect approval means an imperfect product. It means being forgettable. It means being status quo. I don’t want that.
I’ll trade the gold star for the handful of ones to get to the place where I can create something remarkable.