What Does Excellence Look Like?

It looks like Octane.

My friends Tony and Diane started Octane less than 4 years ago. Octane is a cool coffee shop, in an up and coming neighborhood. They had a passion for design, style, and general hipness. And they made really good coffee and espresso. And you know what? That could be the whole story. I mean Octane is, by nearly anyone’s standard, a runaway success. No one ever complained about the quality of the coffee, it was already the best in Atlanta.

But then excellence isn’t about no complaints.

Tony and Diane decided, whatever the risks, that they were going to pursue excellence. And mind you, it *is* risky. Most people don’t really know what coffee excellence entails. Coffee excellence means losing the ginormous serving sizes people have become accustomed to. It costs more money, and demands far higher standards from employees. And no one really knows if people even *want* coffee excellence. When Starbucks raised the coffee bar in the 90s, that may be as far as most people want or need it to go. It takes effort to discover what the next level is all about. People just simply might not want to expend the energy.

Of course excellence isn’t about what people want.

Excellence is a pursuit all its own. People might want it. Somebody wants it of course. But is it enough people? Is it worth the cost? Tough to say. That’s why it’s risky. And that’s why most people and companies don’t even try. Starbucks stopped pursuing excellence 8 years ago. It’s hard to say that they are not successful. Of course GM stopped pursuing excellence 40 years ago and it has brought them close to death.

Pursuing excellence isn’t about commercial or financial success.

Pursuing excellence is really about demanding more from yourself. It’s about knowing, at the end of the day, that you were able to do something few others have done, or even tried. It’s about charting new ground and the feeling that goes with it. The nice thing is: you can have commercial success either way, so why not *also* choose excellence?

Seth Godin has a great little book out called The Dip, and it’s all about excellence and what it takes to get there. Or, if you are in Atlanta, go to Octane and you can see it in person.

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