Thursday, 20 October 2011

Of Humility, Excellence and Quality

At the heart of Christian humility is the recognition that all that we have and are we owe to God.  Hence, we never become puffed up because of the successes with which we are associated.   All the glory belongs to God.

One pitfall that can lead individuals to grab God’s glory however is when we get so good at what we do, we conclude it’s because we’re so good.  This glory snatching will most likely occur when our undertakings fall within what it is we know we can do, based on acquired skills and experiences.  When at first we may be blown over by a success and we tend to say, “thank God”, a recurrence of a similar level of success tends to breed a contemptuous familiarity, and we begin to think that we are something special. There is an old adage that says that “familiarity breeds contempt.”  This outcome can occur within a number of instances including the matter of repeated activities.  When activities are done the same way over a period of time, and one becomes accustomed to the routine there’s always the tendency to rely on the honed ability and the comfort (familiarity) developed in accomplishing the usual tasks.  This is when it is likely to be all about self; about what “I can do.”

Nebuchadnezzar, although then not a committed servant of God, seemed to have plateaued in his accomplishments, and it was at this stage that he made the fateful declaration, “is not this great Babylon that I have built…by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” Dan.  4:30. He had conquered the world, and there seemed nothing else to do, but gloat.  This is exactly what excellence is not.
Excellence comes from the root excel.  To excel means to do better than a given standard.  A standard is the level to which a bar has been raised, and which also becomes the minimum required level of output required.  Meeting this minimum standard is how quality is then determined, because quality is the extent to which a predetermined set of criteria are satisfied.

It is important to note that a performance that may be determined excellent this year would have exceeded the bar of minimum requirements and may be used to reset what now becomes the minimum requirement.  Quality is also recalibrated.  Interestingly too what is deemed excellent this year may cannot be so adjudged if the same performance is repeated next year.  Hence, it has been said that there is no finish line to excellence.  For practical reasons the movement of the bar may not go industry wide as soon as one individual or corporation may have moved up their personal standards. This reality would then make excellence a personal thing, meaning that while by virtue of industry standards you are exceeding the bar, and more than meeting quality standards, one may not be meeting or exceeding their personal standard, and are therefore not excelling.

Excellence then is the one time experience of doing better than your last performance.  To maintain excellence therefore is to be in a constant state of improvement of one’s performance; to constantly go beyond one’s proven abilities.  It is here that reliance on God becomes the means by which one remains in a constant state of excellence.  In this zone you know it is only God, and this should keep the Christian humble.