A is for Apple, not for Average

When I decided to have my second book translated into English, I approached John Vickers, who has the reputation of being possibly the best translator in my country. In his case, as I soon discovered, that reputation was not simply based on his linguistic abilities. John went above and beyond the ‘call of duty’ and cross-checked every single quotation that I had used in the book and, in a few instances, corrected me. He also ensured that I was referring to the original source of the quotations and, overall, made the new version of the book much better than the original. He proved to be a skilled professional who exceeded my expectations and enabled me to reach a global audience. Going above and beyond the ‘call of duty’ helped John charge more than my previous translator (to be exact, 50% more!); moreover, he gained all of my future business and, not surprisingly, earned my loyalty and friendship.

John’s example serves as a springboard for any professional who wants to move from average to awesome. In many of my lectures, I ask the class, What are the perils of being considered average? A simple question with life-changing repercussions both on a personal and professional level. Average is where most people, unlike John Vickers, fail to turn a mere translation into a friendship; average is where you fail to gain customer loyalty and average can be the difference between remaining unemployed or being employed. As the CEO of a German conglomerate once told me: “Being average allows your competiton to marvel at your performance.”

It is not easy to climb above average and reach awesome status. Champion athletes dedicate years of their lives to their sport, imposing iron discipline on themselves and missing out on so much of what ‘the average person’ enjoys. Take, for example, the legendary swimmer Michael Phelps, who won eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, a feat never achieved before or since. According to Darren Hardy, author of The Compound Effect, the sacrifices that Michael Phelps had to make and the consistency of his training stretched back to his teenage years when he was working with his coach Bob Bowman and honing his skills and talents over the course of over 12 years. Together they built routines and rhythms, and developed a consistency of performance that prepared Phelps for the success that was to follow. “One of Phelps’ most vivid memories”, according to Hardy, “is when Bowman allowed him to finish a training session 15 minutes early so he could get ready for a middle-school dance! That’s one time in twelve years! No wonder Phelps was so unbeatable in the pool!”

For every World Champion or Gold Medalist, there are millions of ordinary sportsmen and women. And somewhere in between is what the mathematicians tell us is ‘the average’. Average will not earn you a commission, an increase in salary and, of course, it won’t earn you a higher standard of living. So everyone who aspires to be the Phelps or Vickers of their industry should be asking if what they are doing is unique and irreplaceable and if they are willing to endure the ‘pain’ of hard work and consistency.

How to avoid being average

I have just finished reading The Apple Experience by Carmine Gallo, which focuses on the unique concept of the Apple retail stores. The Apple Store is the most profitable retailer in America, generating an average of $5,600 per square foot and attracting more than 20,000 visitors a week. How do they achieve this remarkable result? Certainly not by being happy to operate an “average” store. From the time the first store opened in 2001, the company’s focus was never on achieving such revenue but on what it called “enriching lives”.

Apple achieved this remarkable feat by making sure that all 30,000 of its front line employees are not on a commission basis. When Steve Jobs first started the Apple Store he did not ask the question, “How will we grow our market share from 5% to 10%?” Instead he asked, “How do we enrich people’s lives?” Enriching lives means hiring for smiles; it means adding value instead of selling stuff. Enriching lives led to the creation of a “Genius Bar” where trained experts are focused on “rebuilding relationships” as much as fixing problems.

In his book, Gallo refers to another one — That Used to Be Us by Thomas Friedman — and he notes that “Anyone who wants to start a business has more resources available than ever before, far more than Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had in 1976 when they started Apple in the garage of Jobs’s parents’ house in Los Altos, California. But unless that entrepreneur offers something ‘extra’ or above average, it doesn’t matter.”

This reminds me of the taxi driver that drove my friend and sales expert and speaker Steve Clarke on his first ever visit to Athens. Not long ago, Steve went to Athens to share a stage with myself and other specialists to address the 2015 Boussias Sales Conference. Having arrived a day earlier, Steve had a day off and so he took a taxi to the Acropolis and the Parthenon. On the way, the friendly — and chatty — taxi driver gave him a concise history of ancient Athens and its monuments. Steve was so impressed that he asked the driver if he could show him around the other major sights of the Greek capital. They agreed and my friend not only had his own chauffeur-driven transport but an excellent tour guide for the day. Steve rewarded him well but the payment was not what he would have given to an average taxi driver. This one earned much more, and in a much more enjoyable manner, than he would have done had he not offered his valuable knowledge of Athens’ ancient monuments to his client that day. And, of course, my friend learned much more — also in a much more enjoyable manner than he would otherwise have done — and felt that he had obtained wonderful value for money. To cap it all, Steve Clarke took the stage the next day and started his speech by showing a picture of the Greek taxi driver and encouraging all 200 people in the audience to write the driver’s cell phone down for future use!

So if you would like to be just like the Greek taxi driver, John Vickers or even the legandary Michael Phelps it is not simply — or even — a question of having the best resources but knowing what to do with the resources you have available and doing it better than anyone else in your industry. You need to do it with consistency, be genuine and let everything come from inside. When you can do this, you can say goodbye to the idea that anyone will ever consider you average. As the British historian Arthur Helps (1813–1875) said: Keep your feet on the ground, but let your heart soar as high as it will. Refuse to be average…”