EXCELLENCE & The Trouble With Excellence

The Trouble With Excellence

by , The Guardian Newspaper (UK), 12/19/14.

No scientific organisation is complete without an aspiration towards excellence. The Royal Society promotes ‘excellence in science’. Conferences bear titles like ‘Excellence 2012’ (with the strapline ‘Excellence revisited – the value of excellence’). Places from Nairobi to New York are looking to build ‘centres of excellence’. Developing countries, with the encouragement of bodies like the World Bank and the Commission for Africa, construct copycat science policies that aim to catch up with the world’s scientific leaders in a form of race, downplaying local needs and strengths.
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In October my institution, University College London, celebrated two events that are both in my view excellent: a Nobel Prize for neuroscientist John O’Keefe and the launch of an Engineering Exchange, working with local communities to conduct research projects relevant to their needs that. Only one of those would satisfy the standard criteria for excellence set by many institutions.

‘Excellence’ is an old-fashioned word appealing to an old-fashioned ideal. ‘Excellence’ tells us nothing about how important the science is and everything about who decides. It is code for decision-making based on the autonomy of scientists. Excellence is judged by peers and backed up by numbers such as h-indexes and journal impact factors, all of which reinforces disciplinary boundaries and focuses scientists’ attention inwards rather than on the problems of the outside world. Scientometrics work by Ismael Rafols and colleagues has revealed how journal rankings discourage interdisciplinarity by systematically evaluating disciplinary research more highly. When added to the other institutional pressures of reward and recognition in science, we might regard ‘excellence’ as something worthy of policy scrutiny rather than blind support.

Prioritizing ‘excellent’ research perpetuates the reproduction of scientific elites and the concentration of scientific research in particular disciplines and places. Robert Merton called it the Matthew Effect after the Gospel relating Jesus’s parable of the talents: ‘unto every one that hath shall be given… but from him that hath not shall be taken away’.

The European Research Council (ERC) claims it uses “excellence to recognise excellence”. It is ironic that the ERC’s erstwhile president, Helga Nowotny, has long wrestled with the definition of excellence as a science policy scholar. In 2012 she claimed “excellence itself is multidimensional”. After standing down in 2013 she acknowledged that narrow criteria of excellence would indeed tend to concentrate research funding.

Twenty years ago, Nowotny and her co-authors recognized in a book that if academic research was to serve society there would have to be “a redefinition of excellence among academics, of their career aspirations, of their disciplinary contributions, and their institutional loyalties.” Their book described science moving from ‘Mode 1’ to ‘Mode 2’:

“Success in Mode 1 might perhaps be summarily described as excellence defined by disciplinary peers. In Mode 2 success would have to include the additional criteria such as efficiency or usefulness, defined in terms of the contribution the work has made to the overall solution of transdisciplinary problems.” (p. 33)

They went on to argue that, as universities reconsider their place in societies and economies, there needs to be “a redefinition of excellence among academics, of their career aspirations, of their disciplinary contributions, and their institutional loyalties.” (p. 156)

That has not happened. Instead our sense of excellence has narrowed. In response to growing pressure on scientists to demonstrate their relevance, ‘excellence’ has taken on a negative definition, as the opposite of ‘impact’. In Britain, Research Councils and the REF now talk about ‘excellence with impact’. Researchers are asked to show how their work influences the real world but ‘impact’ is an end-of-pipe idea. There is no consideration upstream of socially-important important research or, as Nature put it in a 2013 special issue, ‘the science that matters’.

Read more at … https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2014/dec/19/against-excellence

EXCELLENCE & The Authenticity Debate: Where do young people who grew up in the church land?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 12/7/15.

A student stated:

“Perhaps my view on this is still a bit culturally biased. My experience in working with Gen. Y postmoderns involved in worship with me is that they want both (excellence and authenticity). However, I believe that excellence is assumed. For example, none of the ‘secular’ music that they listen to is sub-par in its excellence.  I do see a trend away from highly produced music and that which has a more raw, authentic feel to it. However, despite the less produced genre of music I see emerging, there still is a strong element of arranging and excellence in its (Gen. Y postmodern) musicianship … So I suggest that it isn’t the lack of desire for excellence; it’s just secondary to authenticity,”

I replied:

“I wonder if the younger Gen. Y postmoderns who want more professionalism aren’t young people that grew up in the church? I have found at IWU that the students who prefer excellence in worship, often have adopted the “excellence focus” because they are very loyal to the views of their Boomer parents.  In other words, many times good Christian young people don’t develop some of the cynical nature of secular youth.”

A Leadership Exercise.



Now, I was not of course saying this student was suggesting excellence trumps authenticity (he rightly in my mind said the opposite).  But, I wonder if the young people we often see in our churches (who expect excellence) aren’t more the product of a Christian culture rather than a secular culture which feels authenticity sometimes requires an organic lack of proficiency.

Get together with some of your leaders and discuss what you think about this. Use the following question to stir discussion:

  • Have you seen this happen?
  • Or have you seen the opposite?
  • In other words, do Christian young people sometimes seem to prefer excellence because they are loyal to and influenced by their Christian parents’ emphasis upon excellence?

BOOMERS & Do They Prefer Excellence? Good, Bad or Does It Matter? #LeadershipExercise

DUELING QUOTES: (mega-church pastor) “Excellence attracts excellence” or (fast-growing youthful church pastor) “Authentic worship attracts those seeking authentic worship.”

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.,D., 12/6/15.

One of my former students, commenting on the “Authenticity verses Excellence” debate, interviewed a pastor of a large church in the area.  Here is the student’s research and my response. The result is a leadership exercise on “excellence vs. authenticity” in ministry.

Student:

I just visited 1st Church. One of our larger denominational churches. I interviewed the pastor about his leadership. I came away with some great quotes and lessons. One of them was this: “Excellence attracts Excellence”. Quite honestly the idea that the organic church is more interested in authenticity than performance is new to me…I’m a boomer! I like it…I’m not sure that I get it!

My response:

I am glad you are conducting primary research with interviews.  Good for you!

And, I know you are struggling with understanding the cultural differences of the younger generation.  You see, learning about Postmodern Gen. X is really learning about another culture.

Because younger generations are a different culture, they might take your phrase and re-state it.  From my interviews (Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations, Abingdon Press) I would say that might respond:

“Authentic worship attracts those seeking authentic worship.”

A Leadership Exercise:

My observation is that excellence attracts other churchgoers (what we call in Church Growth Movement “transfer growth”, see Thom Rainer’s excellent analysis of transfer growth). Usually, these are people looking for a church that offers better music, Children’s Ministry or Youth Ministry than their church offers.

I would say from my research (Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations, Abingdon Press) that authenticity attracts God-seekers.

A church should do both, but in my mind the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19ff) emphasizes the later (reaching God-seekers) over the former (transfer growth).

Now, what are your thoughts?  Agree?  Disagree?

Either option if fine if it gets your leaders thinking about how to be missionaries to today’s cultures.

LEADERSHIP & How the Navy SEALs Reward Excellence, Not Competence

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: This Harvard Business Review article has many good insights from a former Navy SEALs instructor. One of the key insights is to reward “excellence” not “competence.” In many organizations today being competent will get you a promotion, but only excellence will do so in the Navy SEALs.


How the Navy SEALs Train for Leadership Excellence
by Michael Schrage! Harvard Business Review, MAY 28, 2015.

Produce Excellence, Not “Above Average”

The first describes where Webb simply would not professionally go. “Being very good wasn’t good enough,” Webb declared. “Training programs shouldn’t be designed to deliver competence; they must be dedicated to producing excellence. Serious organizations don’t aspire to be comfortably above average.” “I honestly don’t even want to focus on good or competent,” Webb wrote, “it’s not in my nature and I don’t want to be part of any team or organization that is willing to set this standard. ‘Aim high, miss high,’ and you can quote me on that.”

In other words, training divorced from excellence is mere compliance. It is more “box ticking” than human capital investment. Is “above average” training really worth the time, energy and expense? A kaizen—continuous improvement—ethos is one thing. But customer service and leadership training that only enhances rather than transforms capabilities and skills doesn’t buy very much.

Read more at … https://hbr.org/2015/05/how-the-navy-seals-train-for-leadership-excellence?sf12580724=1