Saturday, October 24, 2009

Excellence: (The "E" in TIRE)

"Excellent!" In unison now, with Bill and Ted. Once again. "Excellent!"

Any word used as an exclamation point by these two dubious scholars probably has no meaning beyond "I like it." Still, we can draw conclusions about the word, or, at least, define an assumption. Something is "excellent" when it rises above, or goes beyond, Bill and Ted's arbitrary expectations. They weren't expecting it and it was good, not bad. When something is bad a completely different word is used. "Bogus." Plus, the words "excellent" and "bogus" sound really cool when you exclaim them in unison, accompanied by wide-eyed wonder. "Party on, dudes."

Their expectations were never great. All they wanted was to have a good time and not flunk high school history.

Let's time hop in the telephone booth (Dr. Who?) over to the OED, the standard by which all other dictionaries are measured.

To "excel" means to be "superior or preeminent in the possession of some quality, or in the performance of some action, usually in a good sense; to surpass others." Whoa, dude. Brain-freeze.

Okay. Let's take this one simple step at a time. In a previous post I've all ready talked about "quality." The problem is figuring out what "superior quality" is. Unfortunately, I can't define "superior" according to my own standard. Unlike historical dictators, the official ruler isn't calculated by the length of my arm, or the attached thumb. There has to be a fixed standard, not compromised by personal expectations, against which I measure work, weight, length, capacity, anything. Oops. That wasn't very simple, was it?

"Superior quality" is a personal, subjective judgment unless a thoughtfully defined and rigidly applied standard followed by everyone is in place, then it's a personal, objective judgment. In order for me to judge something excellent I have to know, intellectually and intimately, the rules. I may not like those rules. I have to know what is normal, according to the rules. I my rant against those rules and what is considered normal. Complain, gripe, moan, groan, violate and throw away, wholly reject those rules. (Yes, I grew up in the 60's.) Certain things are fixed and cannot be changed without doing violence to everything related.

Not only must there be a recognized standard of normal, there must be training in attaining normal. Here's where the quality of work is tested. Does the work meet a subjective, arbitrary standard, or an objective, reasonable standard? Does the standard define normal? Have I been trained to recognize that standard and realize the consequences of violating or rejecting that standard? Am I held to the rules? Just because somebody says something is excellent doesn't mean it is. Especially, if there is no understanding or wholesale rejection of normal.

Add passion and experience, patience and innovation, and a whole bunch of other related qualities and you may get to excellence. Just don't expect excellence when normal hasn't been reached.

In my world, Bill and Ted's "excellent" is stuck at "banal" not even reaching "normal."

Gerald F. Ward

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