The mundanity of excellence

BUSINESS MATTERS BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE - Francis J. Kong (The Philippine Star) - December 6, 2020 - 12:00am

People mean well. My clients are lovely, and they are kind. Before I start my webinar, someone would introduce me. The introduction would be so generous and full of superlative adjectives, and I shudder; I felt like saying: “Wow! After that introduction, either I am the wrong speaker for you or you are the wrong audience for me.”

It was not this way when I started. The first time I spoke in a Civic Organization’s District Convention Conference, there were a thousand people in the audience. I remember the speaker took the microphone. Without even greeting the audience with a “Good afternoon or something, he began his presentation by lambasting me as to how weak my presentation was and how ignorant I was with my data and facts. I became the punching bag for his entire presentation.

I could not sleep that night. What I did was, I promised myself to improve and to be creative and to do better. I guess there is just this energy within me that the more provocation I get, the more determined I was to better myself and prove the cynics wrong.

From that day on, I was determined to study, polish, improve, create, and continuously do better. The day I was publicly insulted was some 20 plus years ago. Today, people compliment me on the presentations I give. And I still deliberately research, study and find ways to improve my presentation, trying to perfect every run. And at a time when webinars rob the speaker of the physical activity and engagement one can do in an “In-Person” audience through the chat box, I still get plenty of favourable remarks and compliments. Now here is the key that a lot of young aspiring speakers and trainers do not understand.

When you look at those that are considered as “established, successful, and super-skilled whether it be in athletics, business, or even in intellectual exercises, they seem to have this supernatural skill and at a whim can whip out tricks and tactics that appear beyond us. We would automatically attribute that to talent. And so we romanticize their extraordinary giftedness. What the public sees is a success. And it is exciting. It is mind-boggling. But what they may not understand is the private practice behind the success called “Mundanity of Excellence.”

Sociologist Daniel Chambliss spent years with swimmers from Olympic competitors to recreational swimmers to determine what set the gold medalists apart. His answer is boring. Hence, in his article entitled: The Mundanity of Excellence, Chambliss says that: “What these athletes did was rather interesting, but the people themselves were only fast swimmers, who did the particular things one does to swim fast. It is all very mundane. Chambliss talks about technique, discipline, and attitude as the ingredients that set these champions apart.

These champion swimmers do not just practice more; they practice well. They master their technique. Their strokes become so different that beginners see them as radically different and manifested by the speed at which they swim.

When it comes to attitude, the champions are perceived as having an inversion. This means that while certain routines they need to do are perceived as boring and mundane by many, these champions are incredibly absorbed with it. When it comes to discipline, the champions do not do their training routine as a task they have to work on, but they use them to achieve perfection at every turn, every twist, and every aspect of their practice.

Chambliss uses actual illustrations to prove the point. When Mary Meagher decided she wanted to set the record for the 200-meter dash, she decided to change two things: always show up on time and do every turn at practice correctly. She broke the world record. Another swimmer, gold medalist Greg Louganis, Chambliss, says: he tries to do every dive perfectly during each session. He is never sloppy in practice, and so is never sloppy in meets.

Now we can demystify excellence. Champions are celebrated. Their success is visible and seen in public but what they do not see is how they deal with the mundanity of excellence. Those tiny little boring, routinary little things that these winners do as they fight boredom, mindless repetition yet challenging themselves to improve and innovate until the habit forms, the muscle memory takes over, and great things achieved.

Never tire of improving things. Do not look down on those “tiny things,” for they may be the only things that separate what is average and what is excellent that makes you a champion!



(Connect with Francis Kong at Or listen to “Business Matters” Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. over 98.7 DZFE-FM ‘The Master’s Touch,’ the classical music station.)

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