The world’s largest iceberg just formed. It is remarkable for its size (larger than the Spanish island of Mallorca). The moment it separated from the ice shelf in Antarctica, the countdown timer begins on its title defense. It will be overtaken by a bigger iceberg, divided into multiple smaller icebergs, or eventually melt. Its fate as the former largest iceberg is inevitable.
When we try to retain a title as largest, biggest, fastest, best-funded, etc., we hang our competitive advantage on a flimsy flag pole. It might stand tall and be covered in spotlights, but our flag looks out of place, antiquated, and even irrelevant once it is surpassed. That is why some companies invest in achieving the title of ‘best place to work.’ It reflects their organizational culture and values. The best place to work is more challenging to create but sustainable when the community believes in its collective strength; it is not a finish line but an enduring journey.
Is your enterprise trying to win by metrics or invest in human experiences? The number of large retailers that were once ubiquitous and now obsolete might provide a narrative about the staying power of those who scale first. Then there are those remarkable causes that continue to deliver on a promise that is not easy to measure but is profoundly evident in every interaction.
The mile marker we pass on the highway was not destined to reside where it sits today. Following the Romans example (who probably plagiarized from a previous culture), we decided to mark our roads with mile markers. Another round of decisions was made about which point to use as Mile Zero and then measuring and marking began.
The uniformity of mile markers works, but it is not remarkable. I cannot recall the closest mile mark to any location. What I do remember are the markers that define a place. There is a church on the sixteenth switchback of the road to Alpe d’Huez, a famous French cycling climb. There is a small evergreen tree that is missing a limb before the steepest and fastest cross-country ski descent. A full-scale replica of a military plane used on movie sets rests in a large tree on the island of Oahu, marking the start of the most challenging climb I run during a trail race.
We can create markers. Art museums engage world-renowned architects to design buildings that will define a city. Communities commit to greenways and bike lanes that make non-vehicle travel incredibly easy and enjoyable. These investments define a way of life (bike garage outside Amsterdam Centraal train station). Causes run iconic events, and participants know precisely where to find them.
What have you created that will define your location? Is it memorable, or does it blend in with the other mile markers?
Do we mark the way to the exit for those looking to move on, or do we let them stumble around until they find it without acknowledgement? It is easy to place our energy in marking the entrance but if those who entering encounter a tired and exhausted group of individuals looking for the depart, then neither group is being served. Even the airlines post a member of the flight crew at the plane door to wish us a good onward journey. What if our exit was as remarkable as our first impressions of the cause?
The average person falls asleep in 7 minutes.
The average person laughs 10 times a day.
The average person walks the equivalent of twice around the world during their lifetime.
The average person has over 1,460 dreams a year.
The average shower temperature is 101 degrees.
Average creates comparison. How do I rank? Am I above or below average? What if we asked ourselves about the work that falls far from average? What is it we are going that lands on the far end of the scale? Perhaps we should be doing more. There are plenty of people who fall within a few percentage points of average, but many remarkable individuals doing something different.
The Barkley Marathon is a backcountry ultrarunning competition consisting of 100+ miles of unmarked trails outside of Wartburg, Tennessee. The race is considered one of the most extreme events, with just 15 finishers since 1989. The course is a 20-mile loop and navigated in both directions, with a 60-hour time limit. The documentary, Where Dreams Go to Die provides a glimpse into the epic confluence of unsustainable endurance meshed with sleep deprivation. If you complete three laps, you have unofficially finished the ‘fun run,’ and that is considered a high honor in the running world.
What makes Barkley remarkable? The failure. Participants drop-out before completing the first loop. The course devours half the field before two laps. An event that embraces and celebrates defeat is considered the pinnacle of ultrarunning. The stories and legends strengthen the myth and mystery.
What experience would we offer if fans accepted failure in exchange for an extraordinary adventure? What can we learn from Barkley? Which failures have given depth to our stories?
Sometimes we have to encounter moments that remind us why we do what we do. Occasionally, we stumble across a memory, place, or event. Other times the moment is created. Return to the summer camp of your youth and recognize the campfire songs and traditions. Immediately, you reclaim a formative experience.
How often do we query why people lack engagement with us? Why do only a few maintain the energy and passion of their first involvement? Perhaps we realize that our interactions are limited to a few unremarkable places at set intervals. What if we put them back on the ski trail and encouraged them to make another joyous run? What if more of our engagements started with anticipation and excitement? What if we thought of ourselves as storytellers who customize remarkable moments?
How do we assign value to an individual’s effort? What is impressive to one person may be remarkable to another or have a profound impact on the recipient. Knowing who you are serving and why transforms the value.
We get lulled into patterns of thinking and acting. The is fast, that is slow. Open this door, not that. This person produces results, that person always hesitates before acting. We do this until our pattern is interrupted. If we are adventurous enough we put ourselves in unique environments then weak ideas influence our worldview.
We can interact with a different group of people, attend conferences that attract a different tribe, read from peripheral sources, or just try to get lost and search for a way back. Otherwise it takes the unexpected to jolt us awake. When our paradigm is flipped by the irrelevant becoming remarkable.
Everyday activities can be remarkable when you make them visible for others to see.
Is does not take too much to add a signature to an ordinary moment. A little creativity transformed tiramisu in Venice from delectable to I must take a photo before I start. I still remember the moment because it was remarkable on a variety of levels and easy to talk about with others.