Growth vs. Excellence

Scott Francis
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Acceleration-FBGenerally speaking people believe that there is a tension between growth and excellence.  It makes a certain intuitive sense – the number of people that are top 10% doesn’t change very much over time, for example.  In business, this often informs executives and team members who assign greater esteem to small teams than to large ones, imparting greater credit for excellence to the small teams.

It is really interesting when you see educational institutions grappling with growth versus excellence.  Can you grow your student body without sacrificing excellence in education?  Conventional wisdom is that growth can be counter productive to the pursuit of excellence.

But in an article in the ABJ, M. Katherine Banks was quoted as saying: 

“Lots of people think there’s an intersection of growth and excellence, so if you move down the growth path you’re further away from excellence… But I contend that is not the case.”

And I agree. First, it feels contrary to an educational institution’s mission to define it as only applying to students who are already excellent.  Second, I think people dramatically underestimate human potential – individually and in large numbers.  Social media and the Internet are making us increasingly aware of how many more people there are in the world who can be an expert at something, or really good at something.

So when people worry about growth being counter-productive to excellence, one is really saying that there are very few people that can be attracted to the company or educational institution that are up to the standard of excellence.

But it is far more likely that the number of people who can be excellent is limited more by an organization’s culture and structures and norms than it is by the population outside the organization.  Ask yourself how your organization and culture *support* the excellence of your staff members as individuals.  That’s the key to making growth reinforcing of excellence.

(As I sit in my office in Austin, hard not to think about it this way: was Austin better when it was 1/4 the size?  certainly some think so. But looked at another way, there are many more ways in which Austin excels today than it did 40 years ago – and if it didn’t have the culture and environment it does, it wouldn’t be nearly as great a place to live at this size.  So what investments is Austin making in the structure, organization, and culture of Austin to allow us to grow *and* be excellent in the future?  One example is the Dell Medical School. We’ll need more!)