Marching towards mediocrity

Everyone wants to have a good life, and most people know that to have a good life, they need to be excellent at work in certain areas of their life.

But not many people continuously remain excellent (and relevant) throughout their life and start marching towards mediocrity.

Read the below story to learn how this social/work behavior goes on:

There was a group of college friends – Anders, Peter, Brandon, Rob and Laura – running a music band.

Each friend had different skills. Peter was the music director. Anders was a keyboard player, Brandon was a drum master, Rob was a guitar player and Laura was good at playing flute.

They were outstanding in their skill areas. That’s the reason their music was popular. They were the winner of the music competition held in the Summer Carnival for last 2 years.  They all were working very hard for the upcoming Summer Carnival which was due in about a month.

Change of circumstances 
Peter’s family was shifting to another city so he had to leave the band. And the band was in a soup. Everyone knew that the band would not be able to perform at its best without Peter’s direction. They did not have any idea about what to do next.

The decision
Someone suggested them to form a committee and take an opinion. So they invited a few wise individuals from their circle and formed a committee.

Committee members were good in their respective areas but no one had an actual experience about how a music band should function. After analyzing the situation, the committee decided that everyone should learn every other instrument as Peter, the director was no more available. The committee believed that if everyone knows all other instruments then they will be able to understand other’s part and they wouldn’t need much direction to perform well.

The practice
Anders was excellent in keyboard and getting A’s but when it came to playing drums he was getting C’s.  In guitar he wasn’t that bad as he was getting B’s. Playing flute was also not working for him because he was getting D’s there. So the committee advised him to work hard on playing drums and flute. He had to borrow some time from keyboard practice to invest it in learning drums and flute.

The committee observed his progress and appreciated him time to time to keep him motivated. Anders was also happy with his progress as now he started getting B’s in drums also. Happier as he was unaware that his handle on keyboard was no more a reality.

The same was the case with other members also. So everyone started practicing harder, getting appreciation from the committee and started learning every other music instruments. At the end of practice days,  they learned all the other instruments but could not practice well in their original skill area.

The performance
They did not even realize that their performance was mediocre until they heard people criticizing their performance in the Summer Carnival.

Here’s what happened:

  1. They learnt some new things about playing different music instruments.
  2. In achieving that, they lost their edge in their original skills and were no longer outstanding as they used to be.

…and they failed to win the copmetition. 

The end
Six months later, Peter came back to meet his friends and said that he has established a new band in the new city.

But he found out that the band had been closed down and the friends were scattered and playing music is no longer an exciting activity to them. They all parted ways and were busy doing something else to live their lives.

Many small scale software companies also act as the committee outlined above. They instruct their people to work for many job profiles at once. For example, they expect their project managers to write code, create architectures, test the application or write SRS documents.

They expect the project managers to be super-humans who can do everything just well.  Oh, the company management is genuine and wishes to pay such profiles more pay.

Now think about this, before 3 years you were good at analyzing the systems and performing well as a Systems Analyst, but then you were pulled into Application Testing and Project Management.  You were asked if you need promotion and good pay hike, take up more responsibilities in diverse areas. So you started putting efforts in different areas including the one which you didn’t like much or you were not good at. Pity was that when you did little well in such areas, you were appraised and rewarded for your “hard” work.

Such companies are like the committee who appreciate you for your achievements in the areas that don’t matter in the end. Maybe they also don’t know how the music band should function! 😉

At the time of the ‘Summer Carnival’ of your life, when you are expected to perform at your best, you will not be able to. Just because your focus is diversified in different areas and you haven’t realized it till now.

So you become mediocre in all the areas that you work. You do things that don’t matter much, you don’t possess expertise in any single area, and you have been transformed into an aspiring mediocre.  You are just another technology profile which can be easily replaced with one or more people at any given time.

The choice is yours. For the sake of a few bucks offered by such companies, do you want to lose focus of what you are good at? 

Consider what Shiv Khera said in his famous book – ‘You Can Win’“Winners don’t do different things; they do things differently.”

 You need to understand what exactly is doing things differently. It means doing things in such an excellent way no one else can do. Identify what is one thing that you do which no one else can? Is it Project Management? System Analysis? Testing? Whatever it might be, stick to that as a domain, get better at it and just do not lose focus because someone else is throwing a few bucks in your platter.

Then recognize whether your company’s business models are allowing you to reach your full potential. Does your company have the vision to take you where your full potential can be utilized? If yes, get aligned and build your fortune with the company. If no, find another company (or create your own) where you can get a vision to get aligned to reach your full potential.

Or forget about a successful career in the software industry and do the same mediocre things to become a jack of all and master of none.