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BriefConsulting 2.2: The Very Best

A special curse dogs The Best and The Brightest. Damned as superlatives, these poor souls dread the mediocrity the rest of us made peace with long ago. I call them The Blessed and The Blightest.

One client explained how, in the course of a week at age eighteen, she’d gone from being recognized as the smartest person in her county to realizing that at MIT, she was barely average, if that. She’d had a lot of tacit identity invested in her best and brightest persona, even though she’d never strived to be recognized. Once the gift evaporated in that lofty Cambridge atmosphere, she didn’t know who she was, or who she was supposed to become.

Life seems comprised of peaks and valleys, and the narrowest road always follows the ridge line. Stuck on top leaves few lateral possibilities, and it’s a long way down from up there to the valley floor.

The effects of being recognized as The Best And Brightest linger. That founder who swore he must have been smarter than anyone else, understandably struggles when his company starts losing market share. The once successful project manager, assigned to a real dog of a project suddenly finds his magic touch turned to stone. These are real, human conditions needing real human attention, and the very best The Best and The Brightest can usually muster is the freaking best and brightest when they might just need some mediocre nudge. Brief Consulting’s® about providing mediocre nudges.

”What’s the best way to resolve this problem?” they’ll ask, as if the best was even determinable from a forced false choice of one. When the very best becomes necessary, the very worst becomes most likely.

I don’t know so I can’t say, never having been recognized as best or particularly bright, but the greatest stucknesses seem attracted to our best and brightest. They hire others like them, creating a Lake Woebegone Paradox where everyone, everyone is supposed to perform well above average. Then some situation requiring low octane action appears and everyone’s topped off with high test. Wheels spin, engines roar, and smoke pours out the tailpipe but the mud hole still wins. Astounded, then, no best or brightest might notice that they’ve quite successfully out-smarted themselves again. Even us Dumbos sometimes do that to ourselves.

I deftly deflect the question about the best solution because nobody could ever know the answer. That the very best The Best and The Brightest seem able muster when stuck qualifies as a question not even The Bestest and The Brightester could answer, this situation says something significant. Anyone can easily out-smart them self by insisting upon the impossible, and this ability seems first-nature to The Best and The Brightest. God Bless ‘em!

I could lie, then, and propose some half-assed response as if it could qualify as the best response, but I usually don’t. Under the ‘The Problem Isn’t The Problem’ rule, I might refuse the invitation to mount the high horse and invite my Best and Brightest client to lunch at a greasy spoon, where we will not find organic arugula dressed with locally-sourced goat cheese. There, surrounded by simplicity, we’re more likely to happen upon a rather modest response. It won’t be the best until it proves adequate. Then it’ll be elevated in retrospect to someplace it could break something falling down off of. Often, under the insidious influence of sublime mediocrity, The Very Best stops meaning anything at all.

©2012 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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