Karthik Pasupathy (aka KP)

Why mediocrity succeeds, and high performance doesn't!

Karthik Pasupathy (aka KP)

Your comfort food or go-to place for a drink isn’t some fancy place that has a thousand 4.7-star reviews. It’s always that place with thirty 3.5-star reviews. Why!

We go to the same restaurants, use the airline service, and call the same handyman not because they’re great. It’s because they’re average, and they’ve been consistently average for a long period of time.

High performers are expected to perform at a high level, and when demand goes up, they fall to average. And, for the customer, the experience was bad compared to last time.

But, people don’t think of the same way when it comes to places that offer a decent, average experience. They become their place of choice when the high performers fail, or when they’re too confused to choose from all the great options out there. Reason? The consumers believe that in the average establishment, they’d receive the same level of service every time. Even if the experience wasn’t the same as the previous time, they’d let it pass because it still falls under the “average”.

Why does the world reward the average and not the high performers?

The answer isn’t simple. But, let me will try to break it down, for you as well as for me. First, let’s look at why things go wrong even in the best places.

There are two major reasons.

High-performance wears down the people who offer them

You can see somebody screaming in a service center everywhere, even when it is a service center of the world’s leading car brand. You would’ve come across an all-star sports person with decades of track record, receiving an earful from their fans for not performing well in a game. Why is this happening?

Being a high performer or offering the best service comes at a price. There is always more pressure to provide the same level of service experience offered the previous time, or exceed it.

Doing it once or twice, or even ten times, is achievable. But, offering the same level of service a hundred times each day isn’t. It wears people down. It puts them in a slump. And, when they hit that slump, there is a gap in the service experience, and the customer gets a four-star experience instead of a five. A series of incidents like these sometimes irreversibly damage the reputation of the establishment. Kevin Alexander’s “I Found the Best Burger Place in America. And Then I Killed It. is a brilliant read that talks about a real-world example of how high performers get worn down and deliver a sub par experience.

Unknown factors and dependencies

Every five-star experience is governed by various factors – emotional state of the service provider, economy, weather, supply of quality raw materials, proper functioning of equipment, on time delivery from the logistic partner, emotional state of the customer, and so on.

All these moving parts should work perfectly in order for an establishment to deliver an exceptional experience. Failure of one or more factors could lead to a sub par experience for the customer.

To put it simply, high performers are always a step away from getting a bad reputation. But, the people who offer an average experience get away with this. Because, the customers who visit them most often have very low expectations, and sometimes even justify the sub par experience by saying “This is how they are. They’re like this forever.”

Why does mediocrity win?

The average wins because they don’t do what the high performers do.

They don’t take too much effort to please their customers. They don’t make too many changes to their service or the interior. They don’t hike up the prices. Nothing. They keep doing the same things over and over, offering a plus or minus 20% when it comes to the service experience. I sometimes feel the owners of these establishments purposefully do this. They understand the customers come for a decent experience, and they only put enough effort to offer that and nothing more.

This way, they fly under the hype radar and dodge bad reviews on social media. And surprisingly, they become the go-to neighborhood place for people. And, when they keep offering the same experience for decades, they become part of people’s lives and eventually attain the “classic” status.

Think about it! Your comfort food or your go-to place for a drink isn’t some fancy place that has a thousand “four-and-a-half-star” reviews. It’s always that place with twenty or thirty reviews and is always at a 3.5 or 3.7 on the review scale.

Not just restaurants. There are numerous such examples in art and literature, too! Writers like Erle Stanley Gardner (82 novels with Perry Mason as a lead), James Hadley Chase, and Rajesh Kumar (a Tamil novelist who wrote 1000+ crime novels) rose to fame because of their ability to produce decent, consistent novels.

I’m probably going to get an earful from you all for saying this. But, think about it. The iPhone offers a smooth, reliable software experience that works perfectly with the rest of the Apple devices. But, their camera, battery, and some software features aren’t as good as one would accept.

Only the recent iPhone 14 Pro offered a 48-megapixel camera. Until then, it was just 12-megapixel. The notification grouping in iPhones is still a pain. Bluetooth transfer, OTG support, and a lot of other features that have been there for years on Android are still not available on an iPhone.

So, why do people go buy an older model of iPhone instead of going to a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra that offers 100X zoom, fast wireless charging, a stylus, a hugeeee screen, and so on. It’s because Samsung has got a reputation for not giving out OTA updates in the past, issues with service, and battery and so on.

On the other hand, the team behind the iPhone carefully chooses what goes into the software and hardware. They don’t shake things too much. They offer a reliable, consistent experience with good support. And, that’s what makes the iPhone your go-to choice if you’re thinking of a phone.

There is nothing wrong in being the average

I’ve been thinking about this since last week, after I finished reading Alex Murrell’s “Age of Average”.

The first question in my head soon after I read the article was, “what’s wrong with being average?”.

The world works because of the average. Be it industrialization, or the software boom, companies were able to manufacture and scale more because of the “average”. The average person and their mindset helps companies sell more and scale more. Even though these services are considered average by the entirety of the customers, for a good chunk of that customer base, this is the best service or product.

Almost makes me want to think, “The world needs more average establishments”.

If you’re starting something, always remember that being average isn’t a bad thing. Being bad or worse is.