The Excellence Mindset

“I wish I could clone this person.”

If you have ever built a team, this thought would have crossed your mind at least once.

Most teams have that one superstar – a bar raiser who excels in her work and sets standards for the whole team. The rest fall somewhere in the spectrum between excellent to average. How you wish you could fill your team with Superstars. Well, building a team is filled with compromises – budgets, timelines and more often than not you end up with people who are excellent in some aspects while just average in others. Is there a way for you to make them go from average to excellent in all aspects? Can excellence be taught? Is it something that comes naturally? Can you find some common principles for having an excellence mindset?

Here are some of the common traits I came across people with an Excellence Mindset.

Care Deeply

People with an excellence mindset care deeply about their work. In fact, they care deeply about everything they do. Even, when no one is watching. There is a famous paragraph in Walter Issacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.

‘You gotta make the back of the fence — that nobody will see —  just as good looking as the front of the fence. Even though nobody will see it, you will know, and that will show that you’re dedicated to making something perfect.’ Paul Jobs to his son, Steve Jobs.

Apple Mac Pro Internals
Apple Mac Pro Internals. Apple is known for creating beautiful products. Their beauty also extends to the internal parts of the product which rarely few customers ever see.


Think Different

Thinking and acting like everyone else is the shortest path to mediocrity. Whenever you come across a problem, here are a few questions to force yourself to think different.

  • Can I fundamentally rethink this? First Principles thinking
  • What can I do to make this better?
  • Think backwards. Think about the end goal and chart a path back to your starting point.
  • Invert. Always invert.
  • Remove components. Strip down everything and rebuild
The Sextant SM31 Shaver (1962)
The Sextant SM31 Shaver (1962). When the Sextant SM31 shaver hit the markets, it was unlike any other shavers that came before it.


Push Limits

When you have an excellence mindset you try to push the limits in everything you do. Even things as simple as optimising your daily schedule by 1%. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to keep pushing the limits

  • Can we improve this? Even if it is just by 1%?
  • Can we improve this even if no one will notice the difference
Evolution of Dyson Digital Motor
Evolution of Dyson Digital Motor. The latest Dyson Digital Motor is half the size of its predecessor and twice the efficiency

Attention to Detail

Measure twice, cut once

Perhaps the hardest but the most trainable quality in Excellence Mindset is ‘Attention to Detail’. Attention to Detail simply translates to being more precise in your work and being less shoddy. You can get 90% of the way there by simply checking your work once before sending it across. If you are a writer, careless mistakes, typos, grammatical errors, alignment issues are some of the most basic things you can catch in one round of revisions.


80% of success is just showing up

We all have come across one-hit-wonders and people whose performance fluctuates between highs and lows. To be truly excellent, you need to be able to repeat your performance every single time. If anything it needs to become better each time.

There is a quote by Woody Allen that says “80% of success is just showing up”. Consistently showing up every day. following through on plans and making progress every day are the easiest ways to cultivate an excellence mindset.

Deep Expertise & Range

Excellence cannot be achieved by dabbling in things. It requires time, patience, effort and the will to go in-depth to gain deep expertise in an area. Expertise cannot be created over weeks or months, It takes years of work, one day at a time. Often people with deep expertise in an area gain it at the expense of something else. You must have come across lone geniuses and solo warriors who are really good at one thing but basically suck at everything else. If you really want to cultivate an excellence mindset it will serve you well to gain exposure to things outside your area of expertise. It is when you develop this sort of a range that you can truly push the limits of your expertise by bringing in newer perspectives to your area of expertise.