Why Nobody Thinks They’re Ordinary and How it’s Damaging Your Biz

Jim Bastardo

Most likely by now you've heard or read about how the next generation coming up thrives on constant feedback and praise. They have grown up getting trophies for participation, get gifts just for showing up and will have hurt feelings if their minimal efforts aren't greeted with maximum rewards.

Unsurprisingly, it has led to some problems in the workplace. It's something touched upon in a recent New York Times article -- how the notion of being "ordinary" is somehow derogatory. Here, read this:

More recently, parents seem to be increasingly anxious that there just isn’t going to be enough — enough room at good colleges or graduate schools or the top companies — for even the straight-A, piano-playing quarterback, and we end up convinced that being average will doom our children to a life that will fall far short of what we want for them. As Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work and author of the book “The Gifts of Imperfection” (Hazelden, 2010) said, “In this world, an ordinary life has become synonymous with a meaningless life.”

This is, of course, hogwash. Not the article, but that dangerous mindset. If everyone is great at everything, then no one is special. By telling everyone they're unique, precious little snowflakes, it cheapens the words "unique," "talented" and "special."

It also poisons the water somewhat in the workplace. TLNT, an excellent blog about the business of HR, recently scrutinized some of the Steve Jobs autobiography, a section on the Apple magnate's management style. Essentially, he treated everyone like they were geniuses and, infamously, had little tolerance for anyone who wound up measuring short:

When it came to teamwork, Jobs had a highly effective modus operandi with a dark side. He always challenged teams — from those involved in the early product efforts led by Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak onward — to reach beyond the possible. A few strong people thrived on this, rising to become top performers who were highly motivated by the pride they derived from striving to meet the challenge.
But many others were needlessly frustrated. The price a leader pays for such behavior is the loss of people who need more encouragement along the way. Such an approach also undermines the emotional commitment of B players, who in most enterprises constitute more than triple the organizational teaming capacity of A players.”

Obviously as a manager you can't come out and acknowledge who your benchwarmers are publicly, but if you are honest with yourself about assessing your talents' talents, you'll be doing yourself a lot more favors and saving yourself a lot of headaches. Even better, you'll be spending a lot less time at the trophy store picking out shiny things to mark dubious accomplishments.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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