Excellence is a compound effect of mundane actions

Friday, December 21st, 2018

Sociologist Daniel F. Chambliss wrote an ethnographic report on stratification and Olympic swimmers, which examined the mundanity of excellence:

Excellence here is defined as consistent superiority of performance.

1) Quality > Quantity: Excellence is a qualitative phenomenon. Doing more does not mean doing better. It is the quality of the work you do, not the quantity of the work you do, that makes the difference.

2) Talent is a useless concept. Varying conceptions of natural ability mystify excellence, treating it as the inherent possession of a few; they mask the concrete actions that create outstanding performance.

3) Excellence is a compound effect of mundane actions. Excellence is accomplished through the doing of actions, ordinary in themselves, performed consistently and carefully, habitualized, compounded together, added up over time.

When my friend said that they weren’t exciting, my best answer could only be, simply put: That’s the point.


  1. Lucklucky says:

    That denies critical mass concept which in most simplest cases means that quantity has a quality of its own.

    I don’t think excellence is only that. It also means recognizing patterns and links between actions and results. If there isn’t talent, intellect to do that then excellence is nothing more than diligence of what is known.

    Since every person is different not all that is known is adaptable to any person. A person also have to know himself.

    A swimmer, in this case, has to recognize what actions would improve his results. That could be from changing a technique to brute force training some action.

  2. Wan Wei Lin says:

    I work in the automotive machining and assembly industry. All the actions to build a quality vehicle are mundane. Mill, drill, tap, dimensional control, assembly, welding, and painting. More often than not what stops the process most is accountants buying parts from the low bidder. It’s so bad that we normally have the suppliers in the plant inspecting their parts before they go into the system. I know this happens at domestic and foreign-domestic car plants.

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