Excellence Kills Brilliance


Excellence: the quality of being outstanding or extremely good. (Perfection)
Brilliance: exceptional talent or intelligence

Can excellent and brilliance coexist?

Is it better if they didn’t?

Let’s get a grasp first with the help of a few examples to be able to differentiate between

Excellence and Brilliance.

Virender Sehwag was brilliant. Rahul Dravid was excellent.

Steve jobs. Walt Disney - Brilliant. Barrack Obama - Excellent.

Dhirubhai Ambani - Pure brilliance. Executors of his decisions - Excellent.

So they do co-exist. Even within a person. Of course there have been times when Dravid has been brilliant and Sehwag has been excellent.

Is there a disconnect?

Largely organisations believe excellence is important. I agree. They say excellence should drive success. I disagree.

In reality a mix of excellence and brilliance together drives it anyway. Those of you who have studied in – depth around leadership and performance psychology may have an understanding of what I mean. Excellence and Brilliance are different and it is difficult for them to co-exist, if not counterproductive.

Let’s say a teacher in the school comes across a child who is brilliant, naturally talented and on top of most conversations. Witty. Talkative. Has a reply to almost anything. Has a natural talent to lets say making bold conversations. But has no perfection in her or her academic work. What will happen? It’s quite obvious isn’t it. There will be pressure on the child to be excellent and he will be encouraged to be so or be punished when he’s trying to be brilliant.

This happens all the time.

There are excellent performers in every organisation, yours too. These are people who excel at what they do. Then there are those who are brilliant. They are above average performers who also come up with brainwaves and ideas; people who you call innovators, stewards, and other similar adjectives.

These people do not excel at data entry in banks. Instead, they wonder why data entry should not be automated instead.

These are people who ideate how soft-skills and communications training could help a lot of data entry operators groom into service specialists.

Excellence is the enemy of brilliance.

Yes they can co-exist and brilliant people may eventually acquire the skill but always at a cost of sacrificing their brilliance.

I am not suggesting that you drop excellence or embrace purely the other. Both are needed. I am simply suggesting that if you come across brilliance, then do not impose excellence on those people.


If Einstein embraced excellence in school when he was being pushed to,

If Edison, who never attended school and was encouraged to be a free spirit by his mother, was taken over and put into a disciplined schooling regime.

If Ford was discouraged from making an imperfect automobile.

If Wright brothers purely focused on making their cycle business excellent.

Yes all these people followed their brilliance and yet had excellence along with them in the way of their colleagues, guides and mentors to execute their plans. Though if they were themselves forced to be men of perfection, the worl