Kedron Rhodes Thoughts on Design, Innovation & Leadership

In Pursuit of Greatness

I care deeply about this thing we call design, and it's relationship to people and problems. If you're reading this blog, I'm guessing that you do to. I'm a perpetual student of the domain and am constantly trying to improve. That drive pushes me forward, both in my craft and career; I want to be great at this!

Or so I thought.

Being great, or at least the pursuit of it, has lead me to some costly mistakes.

In order to set this up, it's helpful to start with a simple question: What does it mean to be great? Google defines it like this:

of ability, quality, or eminence considerably above the normal or average.

I'm compelled by this definition, after all, I want to be above average! Don't we all? Culturally, being average, or heaven forbid, less than average, is unthinkable! Everything around us demands that we be more, that we stand out, that we make the world recognize our worth.

My pursuit to be above average has been a blind one. Simply put, I've chased greatness at the cost of goodness.

At first glance, goodness doesn't sound that much different than greatness. In fact, it sounds less compelling. After all, who wants to be good, when you can be great?

Here is what I lost sight of: Being great is simply a comparison. Nothing more. Good, on the other hand, demands virtue.

Consider this: China, Britain and America are all great nations, but are they are good? Maybe. Maybe not. Being great has nothing to do with being good.

I have, more than once, traded good for the promise of great. I've traded good co-workers for great ones. I've traded good companies for great ones. I've traded good career paths for great ones. Sure, those choices may have pushed me further towards greatness, but at what cost?

In hindsight, here are some common ingredients of great that I've been tripped up by:

  • Passion ≠ good
  • Visibility ≠ good
  • Charisma ≠ good
  • Nice ≠ good
  • Notoriety ≠ good
  • Dedication ≠ good

That's not to say that these attributes are mutually exclusive. I'm simply stating that they are not the same as good.

I've bought the lie that says that in order to matter, I must be great. I must stand out and above.

I suspect that you and I are similar in that we both want our work and life to matter.

The truth is: You don't have to be great to matter. Start with the pursuit of good, and you're well on your way.

Is the pursuit of great getting in the way of good? I'm learning to ask myself that question every day.