Standardization is antagonistic to excellence. It establishes minimal acceptable performance levels; whereas excellence goes well beyond it.
Standardization neutralizes the ups and downs of collective performance levels. The good thing about it is that it elevates the downs and forces it to meet the minimum acceptable baseline performance levels – from poor to acceptable. The bad thing about it is that it more often than not disincentivizes the ups of superior performance and allows it to slip down to the minimum acceptable baseline levels – from excellent to acceptable.
Standard defines the average of acceptability thresholds, which is an inappropriate benchmark for superior performance.
Standards, however, is a good measure for those want to do the bare minimum so as to just suffice and ‘do the job’. Read Herbert Simon’s Nobel prize winning Satisficing model. However, for those who want to excel and go beyond the minimum required levels, Standardization is actually a deterrent. It is detrimental to creativity. Once you meet the established standard levels, your brain is conditioned to be satisfied with the output and you are assigned on the next task. You never have the time or the hunger to look beyond the established baseline – the standard. Your quest for excellence is extinguished as you set out on another project.
Standards came into being when the senior management and the so called intellectual capital of the markets designed a framework and minimum acceptable levels of performance for their so called intellectually-deprived unskilled workers. The workers were unable to define an acceptable performance level and hence unable to produce outputs that met those levels. So, it was the senior management who defined it for them in their bid to sustain in the marketplace.
Thus, standards are often established by someone else, who doesn’t do the work themselves, but rather entrusts a collective group of people with different skill sets to perform the task. Usually, they are set by some analyst or statistician observing a large data set or performing some time and motion studies on a group of doers.
However, the group often has different skill levels, with some peaks who tend to excel and some troughs who tend to be the laggard. Standards averages all these levels into a smooth baseline. That is what a standard is – an average. If you live and work by the accepted standards, you are either elevating your performance troughs or lowering your performance peaks.
Your employer is happy with the standards. But are you? That depends on from where you approach the standards – troughs up towards the standard baseline or from peaks down towards the standard baseline.
Once you determine your approach to the standard performance levels, you will realize if you are growing or shrinking. If it is the former – you would be happy to find out that it is you and the likes who have kept the standard level low, well within the reach of your limited abilities and you are lucky to stay hired.
But if you discover that you are approaching it from the peaks, it is up to you to determine if you want to live by those standards or establish your own performance levels. If you chose to do it, then you can elevate the established standard levels to match your performance.
I would also like to draw an analogy of the above discourse to what we call as group think. Group think is nothing but arriving at a consensus by standards. In group think, a desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. It deteriorates individual peaks of excellence and creativity. It averages everything out. In the same way as standardization kills excellence, group think kills creativity.