A funny thing happened during the last four years of the recession. It seems that it has now become OK to just be OK. It appears that we have re-defined success at much lower levels of expectation than prior to the recession. It shows up everywhere in our language. A few examples:
· “Flat is the new up”
· “We’ve maintained our position”
· “We’re up from last year” (but up is still well below 2008 or 2009)
· “We’re holding our own”
· “We’re doing well…considering the economy”
Is it true that we no longer seek to achieve new heights or lofty objectives? Have we become less powerful, less motivated, less capable, and less confident? When was the last time a leader advanced a bold objective like “Put a man on the moon in the next decade?” How would we react if someone did advance an idea so bold? Would we snicker and roll our eyes? Do we now feel powerless to take on such a significant challenge?
We not only no longer expect and demand greatness; we have become tolerant of mediocrity. It now seems unfashionable to differentiate between levels of performance. People are incapable of providing and accepting constructive criticism about improvements. We congratulate each other for mediocre performance. The overwhelming us of the word “awesome” is one example.
I seldom attend a meeting anymore where someone is not congratulated for an “awesome” performance. It doesn’t seem to matter what the performance level is, the response is still the same: Someone who can’t get the basics right for an event or project is congratulated on an awesome job; a leader who barely maintains an organization’s or government entity’s status is saluted for an awesome term; the president of a company who avoids risk and therefore doesn’t make a mistake is saluted for maintaining the status quo.
Certainly there are pockets of exciting opportunity. I see these everyday as our consulting firm works with the firms who are becoming Colorado success stories. However, this innovative segment is less than one-third of the economy. It is a different world with the mainstream two-thirds. Is this malaise of mediocrity the product of the “everyone gets a ribbon” generation, or “grade inflation,” or just lowered expectations? Is this condition temporary, or are we witnessing a seismic cultural shift? Has our collective desire for greatness and achievement been battered and diluted by economic stress?
Is it just me, or has it become OK to just be OK?