Extra Ordinary

Posted on March 24, 2023

A night image of saguaro cacti with bright stars in the sky above.

Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Shane Stone, Assistant to the City Manager in Maricopa, AZ. Connect with Shane on Twitter and LinkedIn.

What I’m Listening to: Yolanda Be Cool has been a consistent listen for the last year and that keeps going

What I’m Reading: Leadership Sustainability by Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood

What I’m Watching: The implosion of my March Madness bracket

Extraordinary is perhaps the most extraordinary word in the English language.

Ordinary is a word defined by something being average or as expected, and extra most often means more of something, like extra cheese on a pizza. So, it wouldn’t be all that extraordinary to think that extraordinary would mean something is exceedingly ordinary. When we combine the two words to make extraordinary however, we use the other definition of extra, that something is beyond the defined space like an extraterrestrial being or an extracurricular activity so extraordinary is something that is special because it is beyond the ordinary.

As a result, when we think of extraordinary things we think of extravagant, strange, or unheard-of things. An extraordinary pizza might have gold leafed anchovies on it – I don’t know why I’m thinking of pizza so much today – and an extraordinary play in the Super Bowl could be a one-handed catch made against an opponent’s helmet to score a touchdown.

What if we redefined extraordinary using the other kind of extra?

What if extraordinary still meant that something was special, but because it is so true to its ordinary nature, that it was extra-ordinary?

As these thoughts race around for me, I’m reminded of a quote from legendary football coach Chuck Knoll which was imprinted onto my brain by influential author and speaker Rick Rigsby. Coach Knoll said, “Champions are champions not because they do anything extraordinary but because they do the ordinary things better than anyone else.”

Think about the best versions of everything, you will find that most of the time it isn’t the zaniness or the superficial features that made it the best version of itself, it was the execution of the fundamentals. Some examples…

First, pizza, because why not? The best pizza I’ve ever eaten had regular toppings on it, pepperoni, sausage, and mozzarella cheese. I’ve had really good pizzas that were classically extraordinary like buffalo chicken and eggplant, barbeque chicken, or cheeseburger with pickles. Still, doing the ordinary to perfection created the extraordinary experience for me.

Thinking about Coach Knoll there are so many examples in athletics. The Phoenix Suns of the 2000s were a high-flying team with one of the most innovative offenses the game of basketball has ever seen, but they couldn’t get past the fundamental execution of Kobe Bryant and the Lakers or the very boring San Antonio Spurs to win a championship.

I’ve been on a Disney cruise ship, and I’ve been on other cruise ships. To be honest with you Mickey Mouse isn’t an exciting character to me, but that Disney Cruise is still as good as it gets because they as a company are so focused on nailing the “ordinary” elements of cruising. There was no surfing pool onboard, or go kart track, but the food, the service, and the entertainment (which are on every cruise) were done better than anybody else does them.

We all want to do extraordinary things, we all want to be successful, and in our work in local government that means we want our organizations to do extraordinary things, but how do we focus that energy? When we innovate are we trying to do the next new thing or are we looking to do what we do better than it has ever been done before?

But wait, there’s another side to this coin. If we only try to improve what we are already doing, we are going to miss out on some great ideas. I don’t want to live in a world without stuffed crust pizza, and a football team that never adopted the forward pass couldn’t win a game in the NFL.

The answer? Mission focus.

Whether we are keeping the trains moving, making the trains better, or coming up with a new way to move people and things altogether, we in local government need to do a few things to maintain focus and keep a sense of direction for ourselves and our organizations.

  1. Rely on the mission set for our organization

For most of us the mission of our organization is dictated by a combination of our charter, our elected body, our community, and sometimes our internal non-elected leadership. It is paramount that we respect the determined mission. If there are opportunities to provide input in that process, we should absolutely take advantage of those, but after the decision is made cohesion and effectiveness will demand a unified understanding of the mission.

  1. Stick to the mission
    Once we understand the mission, we must remain disciplined in our focus. When we want to take a new step, we should pause and ask why we are doing it. Too often core missions are sacrificed for the sake of greasing squeaky wheels or even in the name of ‘doing good.’ If we stray from our mission to ‘do more good things’ we may not be bad people, but we become ineffective in our work. It is better to do something great than to do more things poorly.

If your parks aren’t safe putting the species names of your trees on plaques isn’t going to impress your community or deliver the impact you are capable of.

  1. Be extra-ordinary

Your mission has its set of fundamentals. In local government this is going to include building streets, protecting the public, showcasing your economic opportunities to relocating businesses, and responding to resident concerns. Do these things with great attention to detail and do them excellently. This is what will make your community regard your organization as positively impactful and successful.

  1. Innovate to the mission

Do not read any of this as a reason to quit innovating. Stuffed crust made Pizza Hut’s pizza tastier, multi-point touchscreens made iPhones more user friendly, and the Euro step turned Manu Ginobili into a force on the court. Each of those innovations was mission driven, Pizza Hut aimed to sell more cheesy goodness, Apple wanted to put a supercomputer in every person’s pocket, and Manu Ginobili wanted to be a champion and a hall of famer. Through mission focus and innovation local governments can be both extraordinary and extra-ordinary.

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