The War on Excellence

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Key Takeaway from Eric's Article[edit | edit source]

Make excellence uncomfortable enough and you will see it run away. In this article Eric observes that we sterilised our soil within the research enterprise to a large degree and we are now consequently observing that it bears insufficient/ stunted fruit to this enterprise. This is because universities ceased to put up with the social cost of excellence doing what it does best (which is to excel while often being a nuisance), and so the latter realises its potential in business instead.

We have spent the last decades inhibiting such socially marginal individuals or chasing them to drop out of our research enterprise and into startups and hedge funds. As a result our universities are increasingly populated by the over-vetted specialist to become the dreaded centers of excellence that infantilize and uniformize the promising minds of greatest agency.

There might be some hope in alternative institutions, e.g. TED (and, let's say it, the Portal).


Build-Up[edit | edit source]

1 - The efflux of excellence from our universities makes the wrong minds stay and often teach (sic!), but it also makes the right minds go and often struggle to fit in (sic!). If the excellence in question coexists with low self-confidence (which I believe is not uncommon, given how mediocre professors can treat genius students), such individuals don't go straight to business and make a success of it. Rather, they take jobs where their intellect is perceived as intimidating, so they waste their potential on learning how to masterfully dummy things down or they keep getting fired. The fuller picture might be that not only did we diminish excellence within the research enterprise, but also didn't use it optimally wherever it went after graduation. Round peg in a square hole, if you like.


2 - Comparable mechanisms in all enterprises. We do have a leadership crisis and natural leaders in lower jobs who present a threat to their bosses are typically not getting promoted.


3 - Business is in love with 'done better than perfect' and it confuses excellence with perfection. As a result it inflicts social penalties on those pursuing excellence as if they were perfectionists. Final outcomes include secret overtime, conflict and low quality outputs. excellence-vs-perfection.png