Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Welcome to Lake Woebegone

Welcome to Lake Woebegone. A recent Business Week poll of middle and senior managers found that 90% of people surveyed felt they were in the top 10% when it comes to performers. Everybody is above average.

What does this mean? First of all it means that most of the people polled are deluded. If my math is right, only 10% of the people can be in the top 10% bracket, which means that the other 80% fall elsewhere. Second of all it means that we have no idea where we really fall when compared to others. Is that good or bad?

I’m not really sure. On the one hand, if you think you are in the top 10% bracket when in fact you really suck at what you do, you will never get better. On the other hand, if it seems to you that 90% of the people with whom you work are even worse than you your whole industry is about to crash.

It is good that people feel good about themselves. And its bad that they think so highly of themselves that there is little room for improvement.

Anyway, I tried to imagine what I would say if asked by a pollster how I felt I performed vis a vis others in my field. First I would have to figure out what my field is. I often see myself as an entertainer or, better, a Stand-Up Philosopher. Compared to other entertainers I admire— Alan Watts being chief among them, I am mediocre at best.

Maybe I am a spiritual leader, I get called that lots of times. Then I get to compare myself to Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Abraham Joshua Heschel. I don’t compare all that well.

I could list myself under “writer,” but then there is Ms. Rawlings, and my stats just crumble.

So I would have to say I am in the middle somewhere. Let’s say in the top 40% of people who do what I do.

I don’t mind being in the middle. It reminds me that I have a lot of learning to do, and lots of room to grow. I am not certain I would ever want to be at the top of my game. I would hope someone who raise the bar as I got close to reaching it. I like seeing people who are smarter, more nimble, better read than I am. I learn from them.

So it is troubling all these business people are topping out. It doesn’t bode well for the country. We can’t grow if we think we are already at the top.

And if we really feel this way about ourselves woe be not gone. On the contrary, woe be comin’— big time.

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