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Posted by on Jul 2, 2010

The Best Quote in the Business

Sometimes, just a few words can nail a concept so important to life and work that they border on poetry.

That’s the case with the following quotation – the best I’ve ever heard in the business of leadership and management.

It comes from the ancient philosopher from the West – not the East – (Santa Monica, to be specific) whose name is George Carlin (RIP).

George Carlin once said, “Have you ever noticed that everyone driving faster than you is a maniac, and everyone driving slower than you is a moron?”

Think about it.

Whenever I share with a class this piece of wisdom wrapped in the veil of comedy, there is an immediate reaction (laughter), to which I respond with the question, “Why is this so funny?”

Invariably, someone says, “Because it’s true!” At which point there is even more laughter.

This affirmation reinforces the central irony of the statement, which we should unpack here.

• Do you know a workaholic? How about someone lazy?

• Do you know someone who is obsessive about details? How about someone too blue sky?

• Do you know someone who spends too much time making things “perfect?” How about someone sloppy with work?

• Do you know someone who takes too long to make a decision? How about someone who jumps the gun and is too hasty?

• Do you know a micro-manager? How about someone too hands-off?

Guess who is present, but usually invisible, in all these stories?

That’s right – you. The ultimate arbiter of the correct balance point in life. The only person driving the right speed, working the right number of hours, with the right amount of attention to detail and quality, and so on.

You must be right. After all, if you thought you weren’t, you’d think or do something different.

Sometimes, there actually is an objective standard to which we can refer to figure out how much or little of anything we should do. For example, there is a speed limit (although few people pay any attention to it).

But much of the time in knowledge work, there is not some higher standard to reference to make a clean, defensible decision. Instead, our approaches often come straight out of our own values. And guess what? Not everyone shares your values – the subject of another post.

The next time you hear some difference and judge it as too fast or slow, or too anything, stop and think. How did you come to your own decision on what’s right? How do you know that’s right? And perhaps most importantly, why is something different creating potential discomfort in you?

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