Ordinary vs. Expected vs. Exceptional

Ordinary is all around you

Ordinary is doing the bare minimum, simply surviving – or ‘getting by’.  Recently, I was talking with a religious leader – someone who runs a congregation. He made it clear, in our brief conversation, that on many days it’s just a job. A job like any other, you show up, you go through the motions, and you get paid. The reason I found this disturbing is that I think spiritual work should be real, not faked.

Ask yourself:

  • How often do you find yourself going through the motions?
  • How content are you to be ordinary?


Anybody can do ordinary. As managers, leaders and team members, we’ve really got to do better than that.  Ordinary is:

  • Having a need to meticulously account for every day, hour, and minute someone is ‘at work’.
  • Treating everyone consistently, irrespective of whether they have excelled.
  • Giving everyone who does a good job a gold star, whether they happen to like gold stars or not.
  • Giving the corporate line that “we can’t afford any XYZ right now until things, you know, get a little better.”
  • Playing it safe.
  • Keeping the status quo for fear of change.


An example of ordinary would be failing to give someone really difficult feedback because it’ll be really unpleasant for both of you. It would be keeping someone in the team who is really not right, because, well, it’s just easier. It would be being a ‘yes man’; pleasing your manager or client, whilst simultaneously undermining your team.

Resisting the ordinary

On the other hand, I know doctors, lawyers, waiters and tax inspectors who are honestly and truly passionate about what they do. Even a traffic warden I know really loves her job. They view it as an art form, a calling, and an important (or even an essential) thing worth doing.

In fact, I don’t think there’s a relationship between what you do and how important you think the work is. I think there’s a relationship between who you are and how important you think the work is.

Exceptional vs. Expected

I visited a little restaurant recently, somewhere I haven’t been for a while. The waiter remembered that I always have the steak, and that we like to sit away from the door. Unasked, he brought it up. This was uncalled for, unnecessary and totally delightful.

3D TV is new, and exciting. The first time someone shows it to you (or you’re lucky enough to be able to afford one), you’re going to be blown away and amazed. The tenth time, it’ll be ordinary, and the 20th, boring.

Hotels used to get a lot of mileage out of remembering what you like when you go back, but it was merely a database trick, not emotional labour on the part of the staff.

Today, if you go to an important meeting and the other people haven’t bothered to Google you and look you up on LinkedIn, it’s practically an offence. We’re about to spend an hour together and you couldn’t be bothered to look me up? It’s expected, no longer amazing.

On the other hand, consider a lady I read about recently, Dolores – a clerk in Seven Eleven in California.  She broke all sorts of coffee sales records because she remembered the name of every customer who came in every morning. Not because she had a database – it was from memory, because she wanted to.

Extraordinary and exceptional take time and effort. Today’s exceptional is tomorrow’s expected.

It’s difficult, as the bar is constantly being raised. We can raise the bar, or we can wait for others to raise it – but it’s getting raised regardless.

By Tom Robinson

We’d love to hear from you about your exceptional experiences, and where you are finding ways to raise the bar.

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