Great is Good, Repeatable

written by Kat Bair
5 · 02 · 23

In high school, I was in color guard – not the military kind, the flag twirling kind. If you’re not from an area where this kind of thing is big, color guards perform as part of marching bands and dance and spin and throw flags, rifles, sabres, and sometimes batons. It sounds insane to describe without context, so here’s a video where you can see some pros in action:

credit to Drum Corps International Youtube Channel

In some schools, in some parts of the country, high school marching bands are extremely competitive, and compete alongside schools from all over the country in NFL stadiums. Not to brag (not that any story that starts with me being in a high school marching band could really be considered bragging), I went to one of those schools. 

In color guard, the biggest, most difficult, highest point getting thing you can do is throw. That’s when you take a flag, rifle, or saber (not real weapons) and throw them, spinning, in the air. A line of 6 or 8 students might throw simultaneous tosses of 4 rotations in the air (a quad) which rotate together, and then are all crucially caught, in the exact same way, at the same point in their rotation, at the same time. It’s pretty impressive looking if you get it right. 

And it’s hard. Really hard. And not because the objects are phenomenally heavy or anything. Pretty much anyone with basic upper body strength can throw a quad, and a fair amount of people with decent hand-eye coordination can even catch one. 

The hard part is throwing and catching it the exact same way every single time. The toss needs to be the same height, and spin at the same speed, every single time. And you need to catch it, with your hands in the exact same position, every single time. This stuff doesn’t only need to be consistent to you – its needs to be identical to half a dozen other people. In every single performance. 

The skill of color guard isn’t being able to throw once, it’s being able to throw 1,000 times, exactly the same way. 

Steph Smith, in article on how to be “great,” says this:

Perhaps “great’, is just “good”, but repeatable.

He goes on in the article to elaborate how “greatness” is often a result not of extraordinary talent or a stroke of insight, but consistency, dedication, and commitment to those things that make us just a little bit better. He says that greatness is a “a reflection of a period of effort” and that a single instance of greatness? Well that’s just luck. 

A lot of people can catch a quad, sink a free throw, or land a sale every once in a while. 

So, while none of us are in the kind of fields that really seek “greatness” per se, its worth reflecting what we can do in our work to build towards repeatable good. How do we put in the reps, the long-haul habits that will allow us to be the transformative leaders and communities that we want to be? 

Ministry Incubators Co-founder Mark DeVries has written a couple of books and launched a couple of businesses centered around this promise of building consistently great, sustainable ministries that are based on systems, not on personality. One of his most consistent recommendations throughout his work is a practice called Balcony Time. 

Balcony Time is a two hour block that you are meant to schedule every week to prioritize tasks, invest in important but not urgent projects, and work on your life, not just in it. Balcony time is one of those transformative practices that our clients most often point to as changing how they operate in the world. And to be honest, a lot of people struggle with it. 

They don’t struggle with doing it once, anyone can do it once. But doing it once isn’t what makes the difference. What is transformative is being able to do it every single week and maintain consistent progress on those important but not urgent goals. That is the work that truly changes people. 

Writing a few thank you notes to volunteers every week, cleaning out your inbox every week, balancing your personal budget every week, these are the things that lead to significant growth, transformative change, in Smith’s word “greatness.”

I am a person who struggles with balcony time, and honestly, being home with infant twins, a two-hour weekly block that I can quietly focus on my work is just an unrealistic expectation to set for myself. But instead of just doing the two hours, the one magical time I could pull it off, I can figure out what I can do every week, and do that consistently. As anyone working on a fitness goal, or in a long-term relationship, can tell you, a  small thing done repeatedly has a lot more overall impact than a big thing you do once. 

So what’s one habit you could add that you can do every week (or every day)? This is not the time to aim big, this is the time to take what you think you can pull off and start by halfing it. You can always add more. 

So what could you do? 

  • Ten minutes of work on the database? 
  • Four recruitment calls for your volunteer work? 
  • Dropping one car ride a day of music or screen time to intentionally talk to your kid? 

The thing you are setting out to do doesn’t have to be impressive, after all, anyone can chuck a flag in the air, the “greatness” or work of true change will come with the consistency of practice. 

We’d love to hear what you come up with, and if you want to work with our team on establishing practices that will change your leadership, your organization, and hopefully, your community, set up a call with our team today!

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Kat Bair

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