Jay Shirley

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Being exceptional.

Published: 09 Aug 2011

The other day my esteemed colleague wrote on the Twitters:

Thought of the day: You want exceptional employees. What is exceptional about your organization to attract them? Be real with yourself.

There’s something missing, though. He doesn’t explain what exceptional really is. Well, he can’t in 140 characters.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, exceptionalism is definitely snug in the pocket. What one person may find pedestrian another person will be awe struck. I’m pretty sure when David Copperfield watches a magic show with a 5 year old, the 5 year old is reeling with excitement and awe. The magic is exceptional, but only to a limited audience.

Exceptional people have exceptional demands. They smell the problems first. They feel the wind. They react accordingly.

Google would still have exceptional people working at Google even if they didn’t have the 70/20/1 model. They have exceptional people because:

  1. Exceptional people already work at Google (or any other exceptional company). Larry and Sergey already had names for themselves. I went to a party at Stanford in 1997 and heard someone talk about BackRub. That’s exceptional.
  2. Getting hired at Google has meaning. Not everybody can do this, a lot of people don’t make the cut.
  3. Exceptional companies do things differently. Zappos, Google, etc. They all have very different ways to keep employees happy.
  4. There is a culture that is grown around employees being productive through happiness.
  5. The leaders are all exceptional, at least to a marginal degree.

Now I think that I can start to define what I think exceptional truly means.

People are unable to do all things all the time. Exceptional people do everything they can do well. They don’t do everything exceptionally good. They do everything they can do well. Well enough they don’t have to repeat it. Well enough it’s done when they say it will be done.

Exceptional people do not simply do more. They do it right. They do it right the first time. They understand that saving time over the long term is achieved by immediate success or immediate failure. They avoid immediate failure.

Now that I have this concise guide, I can manage my own tasks easier and I can work towards being more exceptional.