GOOD TO GREAT
by robert boudwin
(all lower case name is definitely an expression of false modesty)
NOT FOR THE CONVICTIONLESS
THINKING ABOUT BOLD FACING, UNDERLINING & CAPITALIZING EVERYTING TO STRESS THE IMPORTANCE OF PASSION;)
The life you lead or the life you live? It might sound like semantics to some. I say those who say that are simple and are living without purpose or intention. To live a life is to let it happen to you in a passive way. Use whichever cliché you like here. Fate is that which you make or even there is no such thing as fate. Fate or destiny is a factious manifestation of lack of personal accountability. Does this mean that bad things don’t happen to smart, well-intentioned “good” people? The answer is no! BAD unexplainable stuff happens to most. “In every life a little rain must fall.” However, Thomas Jefferson’s quote also holds true here, “The harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.”
Why am I asking you and myself this question here and now? Well, I was asked by a respected long-term colleague to define, in my “humble” opinion (the wise guy), what takes someone from good to great. No, I did not take it upon myself to dub myself “GREAT” and write this paper. He asked me and I assume he feels I know something about the subject. I had what I thought at the time was an easy knee jerk reaction and answer. (Yes, I tend to double describe. The worst writers do.) I quickly told him that there was a book called GOOD TO GREAT (which I haven’t read yet despite owning 3 copies) and he should read it instead of bothering me for free and that I had five kids to feed and this was what I get paid to help people with now. He did not accept that answer. My quick answer was and I quote myself, which is my favorite thing to do, “passion first, then work ethic, then perseverance, then relationship building.” Good is just talented without passion and work ethic, in which case you should take your passion and work ethic elsewhere because we are ALL talented at something. Great is talented plus passion and work ethic.
I have since rethought my answer. PASSION is the only answer under your immediate control and work ethic is merely a expression of passion. A preacher friend of mine (real preacher and not just a nagging friend) once told me I was the most passionate person he knew (knew I’d get to make this about myself at some point when I started writing even though I didn’t know how at the time), but that I didn’t know what the true definition of passion was. He schooled me properly. Passion by definition was to care so much about something that you were willing to suffer for it and did. I don’t have any clear talent that I can point to. I think that most artists truly feel this way deep down…except for the real artist that can paint…I mean they can PAINT! If you can’t sense my humor or detect my sarcastic irony then you should have stopped reading a long time ago. Sorry for wasting your time. I refuse to use quotes, parenthesis & God forbid emojies (or however it is spelled because I am too “efficient” to spend the money on a word processing program produced after 2008) 😉 <<Guess that one existed when I was 32 and finally sprung for my first computer. Getting back to the point, I couldn’t really flip, tumble, or perform any gymnastics and still can’t, though that never stopped me because I figured I could do it off a diving board. When I was a mascot in high school, with no training or mat, I would actually do a dead sprint and attempt what I later found out was called a PUNCH FRONT. I did a punch front ¾ and landed on my ass each time for the first ten years of my career. I have arthritis now to show for that in my lower tail-bone area, or clinically the coccyx. Things got easier when I started doing it on a basketball court instead of a football field. SLIDING… I had NO costume experience. I had never been Barney, or Goofy or whatever the hell else existed back then. I had no aspirations to become a mascot. I did, however, hate watching sports, but liked going to Philly games so I could try to spot the big green guy with the cool tongue. I said yes to the captain of the cheerleading team in high school when she asked me at the beginning of my senior year to be the Trojan because I wanted to “date” her. It worked out. We didn’t. However, here I am 26 years later regarded as someone to ask the question at to how to get from good to great because of my perceived success as a mascot, which began as the answer to that question. Will you be our mascot? YES, was the answer!
So, there was NO talent. There was NO experience. There was NO knowledge. There was not no nothing, because that would be a triple negative meaning something. There was (not going to say unbridled because I have heard it too many times and don’t really know exactly that word’s origins and what it truly means) an almost rage like zest to achieve and to MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH. That desire was potent. When I achieved laughs, it made me feel euphoric and powerful. I’m not sure about you, YES I AM, but that is something I want to chase and invest in, or should I say, in which to invest so as to not end the sentence in a preposition which I never understood. Making people laugh helps them, but more importantly and more honestly, makes me feel good. To speak this truth publicly to the tens of people reading, (thanks for telling Dad about it Mom), makes me feel vulnerable. This is just the truth as I know it based upon my own existence and experiences. The rest is wrong;) Sorry, had to do it there. If you fashion yourself a creative type and also don’t take criticism personally, I’d like to meet you. I once heard a senior management personnel say that he/she didn’t meet anyone who “liked” to be managed. It was then that I decided to answer every doctor who asked me upon a check-up, “Are you allergic to anything?”…”Just Management.” I understand some of you might have had amazing managers who crafted themselves as partners and not bosses. I never met a boss I didn’t like.
Work ethic is one way of measuring passion. Passion without work ethic is just wishing hard or worse yet whining hard. With the absence of action there is no real passion. When I first started as an NBA mascot l was absolutely positioned as a secondary character to the team’s already established and hugely popular mascot Turbo (still a very close and dear friend after working in tandem for what turned out to be 8!years together until he retired) who was an amazing acrobatic, daredevil, stunt man of sorts real life superhero. I was a teddy bear in Texas for a team named the Rockets. It would be an issue understatement to say that I was not received well by the fan base and media and that they “didn’t get it.” Huh, come to think of it, I’m not sure I “got it” then either. What I did get though was a strong belief in my abilities, commitment to my craft and willingness to work hard and long to achieve what I KNEW I would. I like to call this “good stubbornness”. Leave it to an Irishman to made a good version of that word. How did I win the Houston audience over? By not forcing things too quickly, buckling down, and earning it one laugh at a time and one person at a time. In this case it was by working the concourse from doors open at 6pm until doors close at about 11pm with as few breaks that were as short as possible. I didn’t even set foot inside of the “bowl” until half way through my first season which is 20 of 41 home games. The next 10 home games I didn’t set foot on court and only worked the concourse and stands. Not until 30 games into the first season (3/4 of the way through for those of you who are mathematically challenged) did I set foot on court and that it was to just hold the ball for Turbo as he dunked over me and the. Throw some T-Shirts out. It would not be until my second season that I even attempted an on court featured skit. For those of you who have never been in a mascot costume, and I think that is most of you unless I have a completely distorted view of reality, 5 hour crowd work in a concourse environment or appearances is grueling physically and mentally. It is hard to maintain compete focus and be lost in the moment performing for 5 straight hours and also challenging to not be repetitive for both the audience’s and your own engagement. However I did it. No one told me to do that for that long or at such an intense level, but I did it. I believe that work ethic lead to Clutch’s success. When I did my first skit on court, it KILLED & went over great because that audience was ready to support whatever I did arm free earning it from them for the last year. At the height of my career some games I was doing up to 4 featured skits per game and apart of 4 more on count contest or promotions.
The one thing we haven’t discussed, or in this case me orating about, is courage, bravery, or plain old BALLS. Do you have them? Make no mistake here. I am not advocating for haymakers or unrestrained ambition. Here that again Millenials (<<think it is spelled correctly, but not sure with this 08’ set up)! Oh gosh, I sound like an old person. NO ONE can do it alone. If you can, you have not set your sights high enough. Relationships are key to success if not for any other reason than that of division of labor and specialties. I need my wife to design and play IT director for just about everything that is not copy and paste. Now she is incriminated in this. Relationships are what make life rich and give it value. Wins that are shared alone are lonely. I don’t like being alone. Do you? If you answered yes to that last question, please email me a request for a refund for the last ten minutes of your life. If you think you are owed more, you are stupid or at the least read very slowly. Even solo athletes share their victories with their trainers. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS! MAKE COMPROMISES! SHARE IN OTHERS VISIONS & VICTORIES! However, maintaining your quest is up to just you. Staying on that path takes solo perseverance. Should you not listen to others? Is that what having “balls” means? At times, YES! Those of us who are the most creative will struggle with this balance the most.
Do you want to be great? REALLY? There is a cost. At the very least it is called opportunity cost in accounting. That phrase “opportunity cost” along with “good will” always struck me as something “accounting teachers” in high school & “business professors” alike in college always seemed to glaze right over. There ALWAYS is cost, especially if you had the misfortune of being an accounting major with a philosophy minor, turning to a marketing & management major, ultimately wearing a teddy bear costume in Texas. Believe me. I heard the story once. At one of the places I worked, there was a custom poster on the wall that read something to the effect that winning was an abnormal thing, and so to do so we had to do abnormal things. I believe that. IF YOU WANT TO BE GREAT, YOU MUST BE BY DEFINITION ABNORMAL. Being “abnormal” comes with quite a bit of challenges and difficulties, and at times, outright pain. You must be willing to make those sacrifices in exchange for a chance at greatness. It is often said that balance is the key to life and happiness. I would add that imbalance is the key to greatness. Constant innovation and searching for the “next thing” to keep yourself relevant to the masses and also personally engaged is definitely part of the equation that flows from being a student of one’s craft. However, being an innovator is often hard because innovation and by the transitive property you as the innovator are inherently counter culture. People do not like change. It moves them out of their comfort zone. People do not like risk because it also makes them uncomfortable and worry. These are necessary risks and not gambles. Risk being things that are done calculatedly with a greater degree of likely-hood for success than the simple flip of a coin or other random chance examples. Most people will often defer to what is safe and want to play it safe and just do what they have done in the past because they saw that it worked before. Playing it safe in the long run is actually the riskiest thing you can do because you become stale and complacent and don’t realize it until everyone has left you behind and you are outdated. Being great is always accompanied by being an innovator. You must have a tolerance for being known as a disruptor, as that is essentially what innovators are. You will get labeled by some as hard to work with, hard to manage, stubborn, uncompromising, difficult, hard headed, relentless, someone who doesn’t know how to pick their battles, and even down right unlikeable in extreme cases. I like to look at the glass half full here and consider all those “labels” for their positive attributes which are persistent, committed, driven with a clear vision, independent, individualistic, dedicated, and perseverant. TO BE GREAT YOU MUST BE RELENTLESS! After seeing an episode of the ABC hit show SCANDAL, an old friend and colleague once called me extremely excited to tell me much to my dismay that he had me figured out. The key character in the show had said, “Some people aren’t meant to be happy. They are meant to be great.” I told him, “GREAT! I’m neither. Want to grab a beer at Kenneally’s?”
With all that said, you must also be realistic and set realistic obtainable and tangible goals. What defines great? Usually, benchmarking and comparison to others, or at least comparison to yourself yesterday in the short run, leads to a superior product or service in the long run. Don’t forget “great” is inherently a comparative word. Where some are great, others are just good, while others just mediocre and others are still just bad. When setting goals, define what they are with metrics and keep yourself honest by writing them down and checking on your progress and self manage. The most important promises are the ones you make to yourself. Keep them! I was once told by a superior when I was feeling overly scrutinized and demoralized that he believed we should all aim and shoot for perfection so we could achieve greatness. I disagree. Perfection does not exist in mankind by definition. If you are constantly striving for the unobtainable, then you will always feel like you fell short and never satisfied. Satisfied is not a bad word. It is what we should be working for. It does not mean you are going to rest on your laurels and become complacent, and not strive for further innovation. Strive for greatness. Achieve greatness. Enjoy those moments. Be satisfied with your achievement. Congratulate yourself. You can do this without hubris or arrogance. Then repeat. Do not pick apart your great achievement in a maddening never-ending quest for perfection. Perfection does not exist. It is a man made concept. In his famous “Man In The Arena” speech made in Paris, France on April 23, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt said, “there is no effort without error and shortcomings”. Truer words could never have been spoken. Don’t strive to be perfect. You will consistently disappoint yourself and burn yourself out. If you are in a situation where perfection is expected, you will fail. Anyone would in a situation like that. Get out and find a new vehicle for your passion.
There is another key component to being a great mascot or at anything in life if you work for someone and we ALL work for someone else even if we own our own business. If you own your own business, it just means that you have many bosses instead of just one. They are called customers. The other key component to being great at anything is the permission you need to seek to be great. You must be allowed to be in the moment and take in a multitude of information you are receiving in real time and then be empowered to make decisions and act. I was recently discussing this with a good friend and long term peer, Christopher Bruce who portrays Reggie the Purple Party Dude, and he put it as, “First thing I tell less experienced performers is that there are two rules to mascoting. First, don’t suck, and second, have fun!” The point is to not over produce, over manage, over control or over plan what you are going to do so that it becomes so mechanical, robotic, scripted and rehearsed that the magic, life, humanity, and authenticity has been bled out of a performance. People are not puppets, and performers especially have to be allowed to make individual choices and expressions of material to bring it to life for an audience, especially with improvisational performers. They cannot be boxed in to simply pulling from an “approved” list of reactions or antics. They must be permitted to get lost in the moment in order for greatness to be a result. This takes trust and faith to be extended to the performer, worker or employee and a discipline on management’s part to not over react when one-off issues or complaints arise, or even when mistakes are made. An over riding principle of only commenting on pattern behavior and not one-off ZAPS must prevail in the culture or relationship in order for something to be “allowed” and PERMITTED to be great. A deal is made between employee and employer or owner and customer base. You bring the passion and I bring the permission! Trust and faith flow from that. It is called a healthy relationship where both parties are getting what they want and need from it. The Prime Minister character, played by Hugh Grant in the movie Love Actually, puts it well when he is addressing the media and the President of the United States of America after a meeting that didn’t go well when he said, “I love that word relationship. It covers all matter of sins. I fear this has become a bad relationship. One where the President take whatever he wants and casually ignores all the wants of Great Britain.” I am paraphrasing here from memory. I have only seen the movie 83 times so if I am not accurate, I am in real trouble. What managers who over manage fail to realize in the moment is that by trying to overly influence a desired outcome, they actually work against themselves by breaking the systems and humans they already have in place to effect that outcome. Make sure your relationship is a GOOD ONE! Profit cannot be the only goal in business. If it is, the business will fail in the long run. Profit is about taking. There must also be a component of giving beyond the obvious service or product provided.
All the people I know who are actually great at their craft answer the live to work or work to live question the same way. They also answer the what do you do for business and what do you do for pleasure questions the same way. They say that they live to work and that their business is their pleasure. These people feel and believe with all their heart that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. These Beliefs are ALL ABOUT passion for one’s work. These people have a high degree of urgency towards their work and an attitude internally at least of little patience. Disincline comes into play when controlling how you communicate this internal urgency with others so as to maintain relationships still valuable with others who might not match your passion. People ask me all the time upon meeting me and finding out I have been in the mascot business for 26 years now, how much does a professional mascot make? I give them the same answer every time. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. It all depends. I’ve heard some full time gross compensation packages as low as $20k even after being in the business for a while. I’ve also heard some as high as $300k, and everywhere in between. Why such a pronounced spread? I believe the answer is varying levels of passion that manifests itself in persistence, commitment, dedication, and perseverance over the long run.
To wrap up this little “short” answer, to a simple question…PASSION conquers ALL in the long run. I guess that is my talent. How do you take GOOD TO GREAT = PASSION…easy to explain (not really Miguel, took me 4 hours to write this)…harder to understand…and hardest to DO! Get to work you lazy bums and stop being afraid to argue and curse. I trust people MUCH MORE who do both.
As a post-script (P.S. for you dummies) I will leave you with my high school senior quote, “Confidence is the key to success. Arrogance is the gateway to failure.” Sounds familiar, but I swear on my 5, and hopefully just 5, children that I wrote that myself and didn’t read it anywhere else.
THE QUOTE ON THE WALL FROM ONE OF MY STATIONS IN LIFE.