In a weird way I tend to think about how to create exceptional performance and excellence an extended amount. And initially I thought it was related to the coaching that I do in track and field. But as time goes on I have come to recognise that there is something much more interesting than that behind my intrigue. 

At a personal level I am attracted to people that are searching for the edge. I think in many ways we all are. It is why we like super heroes. They are at the margins, pushing the capability of what is possible, and it does, even if just for a brief moment, make us feel as though seeing the edge gives us some greater capability within ourselves. We have all been exposed to a situation where you do not know what is possible. Then you have the experience of seeing someone do not only what you believed to be an extreme level, but well beyond that. Cognitive dissonance does not do justice to the feeling that you have when your world is tilted on its axis in this way. It opens the door to a world that you had not considered and in so many ways it is an intoxicating allure. 

But in a world where human capability, and terms such as exceptional, elite performance, and world class are used to describe everything from artisans, athletes and corporate professionals, how do we define this? How do we create a framework to evaluate this and how do we develop these skillsets?

A phrase that I have heard used by some is ‘uncommon amongst the uncommon’.

This kind of line can come across as contrite, especially when it is said by people such as David Goggins. For all of his unformed ideas, this simple slogan is more accurate than it may appear on the surface. Hopefully I can explain this with some level of clarity, but what I have noticed in my time working with people that would be considered high performing in their industry are anything but uncommon. The biggest thing that I notice is that talent is used as a proxy for high performance. And if you let me indulge the negation, it is certainly not high performance. 

Excellence is not talent.

Excellence is not being an early adopter

Excellence is not being a fast learner. 

Excellence is not hard work. 

And it is not a combination of these things if that is what you are expecting me to say. 

So what is it? 

The attribute that most clearly defines elite performers, is the insatiable pursuit of mastery.  With pursuit being the key word.

Even when working with Olympians, professional athletes and corporate high flyers, I have only ever come across a few people that would meet this criteria. They also meet most if not all  of the criteria that I mentioned excellence is not. But what separates them is that they are always pursuing mastery in their chosen endeavour. 

So the question then becomes can you create this, and if you can, how?