What makes a dancer, singer, or speaker great? I mean really great, like genius-level great?
There are three things that make the great different:
First, they stand out. They break conventions. No one gets excited if they play it safe. In fact, they know “playing it safe” is one of the most dangerous options around because at best, no one even notices your existence.
Second, they perform with confidence. When a performer takes the stage and is reserved about their performance, hoping for greater acceptance by not going too far into the extreme, we sense the tension, and it makes us all feel uncomfortable. As a result, it feels like an amateur performance — someone who wants to be great, but simply isn’t.
Third, it requires polish and class. It’s amazing how often you see someone go out and try to push the boundaries, but something is missing and as a result, they fail, and usually, they fail badly. When someone without skill tries something new, they lack the experience to add polish. On the other hand, the genius has an intuitive sense for why the convention exists, and thereby knows how to circumvent it with class. We still find their rule breaking shocking; but we are also extremely impressed.
Sometimes it’s easy to tell the great from the amateur and enumerate why, but most of the time, there is a fine distinction between the two. Its something we sense when we witness it, but can’t exactly put our finger on it — you know it when you see it.
As the world increasingly moves toward commoditized ho-hum, we must instead be great at our jobs like any great performer: Pushing the limits, not settling for safe, and breaking the rules with both confidence and class. However, we must be careful of becoming excited simply because we are breaking free of convention. Too often people think that being different is enough and as a result, they get lazy about their execution. Being different is not enough. You have to be different and you have to do it well.
[Side note: Even though dancing is not really my thing, I’ve found the videos by the LXD pretty incredible. The mixture of the extraordinary dancing coupled with storytelling is very compelling. In case you haven’t seen any of their performances, here was their presentation at TED this year.]