Design and Development

How to standout in a world of mediocrity


Filed under: Design Inspiration.

Last week I went to an Entrepreneurship conference where I heard an amazing talk on excellence by Mr. Gary Powers. Powers is the Owner of Ortho Molecular Products, a company who aims to change the way the health supplement businesses are run.

Excellence: How to standout in a world of mediocrity

Powers says many company’s products are not accurately represented on their labels. A supplement label may say it has Betaine to aid with digestion, but how much does it actually have? Many companies will add just a few drops of an ingredient to a huge mixing container and add it to their label to help it sell.

Power’s company is looking to set a new standard of excellence in the industry. His talk led me to think about how these same principles of excellence can be applied to the web industry. If you are tired of the status quo – business as usual – then keep reading!

Lesson 1: Deliver what is needed

If you build a product/website it has to do what you say – what it is supposed to do.

For Powers, this means making sure he has the proper amount of ingredients in each supplement – for us as designers, this will look a little different.

As a designer,  you need to find out what your user’s true needs are and figure out how to not only meet but exceed them. Do not go bragging about how great your skill-set or features are – make sure your work delivers true results!

Lesson 2: Go over and above expectations

Power’s talk really stimulated my thinking about design, the web, and what we as a design community produce. Is everything we do really excellent?

Do the adjectives extraordinary, remarkable, excellent describe everything we do?

So often we are not remarkable – we do just enough to get by, instead of looking to innovate and go over and above what people are expecting.

The 212 Degree Principle

I’m sure you are wondering what the 212 degree principle is.

Think of it this way. Suppose you are trying to get an old train to run, or a nuclear reactor to generate energy – you need steam to make it work. You will only get that steam when you meet one condition: the water reaches 212 degrees. Not 198 or 211 degrees, but exactly 212.

212 Degree Principle: “1 degree of temperature difference is all that is needed to move a steam engine from 0 to 90 mph.”

Hence the application: doing things just a little better can lead to huge results.

Our world rewards excellence by giving you business. So if you are struggling to find good clients, or work you enjoy – look to what you are producing, and make sure it is truly excellent.

“Excellence draws customers, because it makes you standout from mediocrity.” – Gary Powers

Lesson 3: Sloppy work never pays off

Powers tells an interesting yet sad story of an expert carpenter who was about to retire. His boss requests that he build one last house, to which he consents.

He starts working on the house, but the boss notices his work is not up to his usual excellence standard – he is letting the little things slip by.

Finally, the house is finished and the carpenter approaches his boss. “It’s finished”, he says. The boss looks over the house and notices a mistake here, a little unevenness here, a little sloppiness there.

Being sloppy never pays off

He asks the carpenter “Well, are you satisfied with your work?”

The carpenter thinks for a minute and replies, “Yes, I think I am”.

The boss replies, “Well, I am both glad and sad to hear that. You see this is your house; this is my gift to you for all your faithful years of amazing service. I hope you enjoy your work.”

The lesson here is clear: Sloppy work never pays off – it will come back to haunt you.

We miss so many opportunities because we are sloppy. You never know who will be looking at your website, even if it was a small project that did not pay very well. You really cannot afford to do anything sloppily!

Everything you do communicates something about you

So what does your work say about you? Does everything you create shout excellence? Does it say “I love what I do!”?

Here are some things Powers mentioned that communicate a lot about you as an individual and/or business.    

    Facilities. What does your office and especially your desk say about you?    

    Dress. What do your clothes communicate? Professionalism? High-Confidence?    

    Products. Does your work – the graphics, photos, pixels, animations, the nitty-gritty details – say you care?

How do you practically achieve excellence?

It’s great to set a goal to have excellent customer service, or create the best looking website ever – but how do you practically achieve this?

Systems not smiles – you need to put a standard and/or process behind all of your goals. People may initially like you because you are always smiling and friendly; but if you do not meet their needs, they will quickly turn elsewhere with their patronage.

If your goal is to have great customer service, your standard might be to always answer the phone before 3 rings, or respond to emails within 12 hrs. If someone submits a project request, your standard could be to always return a proposal within 72 hrs. Little things like this will mean a great deal to your customers.

The thing to remember is: If you don’t have a defined standard, you’ll never get to excellence.

Morton’s Porterhouse: Amazing customer service

In August, author and business consultant Peter Shankman was getting ready to board a flight that was the last leg of a long day of traveling. It just happened to occur over dinnertime, and he knew he would be starving when he deplaned and headed home. “Hey, @Mortons – can you meet me at newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks.”

Imagine his surprise when he got off the plane to find a tuxedoed gentleman holding a bag that contained a 24 oz. Morton’s porterhouse, shrimp, potatoes, bread, napkins and silverware. Shankman noted that the Tweet had to be noticed, someone had to get approval for the idea, a cook had to make his food, the food had to be driven 23.5 miles away from the nearest Morton’s, and someone had to track down his flight information and figure out where he was landing to meet him at the right location. All while his stomach was grumbling on a 2.5-hour flight. Pretty impressive. 

– story from

Awesome right? But how did they actually accomplish this? Simple – they had a process in place.

Ritz Carlton: Amazing attention to detail

Ritz Carlton hotels have long been praised for their amazing customer care. If fact, they have been known to do some pretty amazing things – like greeting guests by name when they arrive at the hotel, and personally escorting them with their luggage to their room.

Here is just one story I found of how they went “over-the-top” for one of their guests.

A businessman was a guest at the hotel with a repeat group who had stayed at the hotel only once before – one year prior for the same conference. When the guest was at the hotel a year ago, he was having dinner in one of the ballrooms and asked a banquet server if it was possible to get his favorite soda beverage. The server informed him that the hotel did not serve that beverage, but he would see what he could do.

Within a few moments, the server came back with the requested beverage. And every night for the rest of the conference when they were having dinner, the server had the favorite drink waiting for this guest.

Already amazed by the past experience, the guest never expected what happened at the conference the next year. He was sitting in one of the ballrooms having dinner, and in walked his same server from the year before with the beverage in hand. The server completely shocked and delighted the guest by remembering his favorite beverage, even after a year’s time.

– story from

Again, this is an example of how standards and processes put practical wings to their goal of amazing customer service.

Put a plan into action

In his talks, Powers really stressed the idea of always growing and moving toward your preferred future.

“You are going to spend all your time in the future, so why not create a future you enjoy?” – Gary Powers

Current Reality vs. Your Preferred Future

Excellence will look different for you than for me. The main thing is to set a goal of where you would like to be in one month, five months, one year, 3 years, and 10 years – and work toward those goals.

Every ninety days take a look at where you are and evaluate it against your checkpoint goals. Rinse and Repeat!

How to move through a sticking point or ceiling

Everyone has a point they will reach where they cannot grow without help from outside sources. There are four main characteristics that make who you are as an individual:


–      Knowledge

–      Attitudes

–      Skills

–      Habits

The only way you will continue to grow is to change in one or all of these four areas.

For designers, maybe you need to learn a new programming language like Ruby on Rails (this is what I’m currently doing); or start using a revision control management tool like Git, Subversion or Layervault in all your projects.

For more hard-core developers, maybe you need to take a course on design principles and color theory. Possibly you need to attend a life-growth seminar, where you will be challenged to a whole new level of purpose and productivity.

Whatever you do, the people you meet and the books you read will greatly influence your life – so be wise in your selections!


One thing I want to make sure you understand is that excellence is not perfection – which your customers cannot afford anyways.

Excellence means the job is done right, that you have delivered a great product with that extra 1 degree of polish – if you are not hearing a WOW every once in a while, then you probably are not doing enough.

Action step for this week

Well, I trust you have been inspired and challenged to take your work to the next level. All of this does not do you any good if you simply  scan it and move on with your day – you need to write down some practical ways you will apply it.

Maybe you need to read that book you keep putting off, or study that new programming language you have been meaning to learn. Whatever it is, set a goal and get busy!

Please let me know how this has helped you or how you are going to apply it – I want to hear from you!

Join the discussion below, we'd love to hear from you!

    • Caleb Mellas

      Yes, the conference was really great! Do you have any examples of how you apply one of these principles of excellence in your consulting business?


Leave a comment

  • (will not be published)