I noticed there’s a common theme among my reading materials lately: Greatness is almost always associated with the two extremes. Here is an example: In this Seth Godin’s post, he wrote that people either love or hate Bruce Springsteen, and that’s a result of his greatness. The other day when I was rereading Good to Great, I came across the passage that described how great companies fund their corporate initiatives — they either fully fund the initiatives that will propel the companies forward, or they don’t fund them at all.
That led me to ponder whether greatness is binary, and my conclusion is YES! Let me explain why I say that.
First, the saying, “You can’t be everything to everybody” rings true in this instance. If you can’t please everybody all the time, then it means in order to succeed you must choose which segment of customers you want to serve. If you make a choice in who you want to serve, it means you are not serving those not included in your chosen segment. Those being served by you would love you (assuming you do serve their needs, not just paying lip service) while those not being served by you would hate you. Whoala – you get a binary result as a consequence of choosing to be great.
Second, in order to truly be great, you have to put in time and effort to hone your skills/knowledge. Since time and effort are limited, you can only effectively expend them on one (or a few) projects. This is, again, a very binary approach to and outcome of greatness.
So if greatness is truly only achievable through the binary approach, why do so many people and companies spread themselves so thin? Don’t everybody want to be great? Of course, that is easier said than done. That’s why we only have a handful of truly great leaders and companies.