How Do You Define Excellence?



You’ve heard it before and you’ve probably used the term as you trained volunteers. I know that I have.  At times, it feels like the perfect word to describe the efforts of a well-orchestrated team accomplishing a project but at other times, it feels like a source of frustration as it is ever elusive. But what does it really mean? How do we actually define it?

Sure, I could quote Webster’s or lookup something from Seth Godin but I think my concern over the term being used in the creative arts arena is that it can’t be defined. Or better yet, it can be defined in a multitude of different ways.

It’s not quantifiable and even though spreedsheets aren’t always sexy, they at least provide us objective means of evaluation and feedback. Now, I am in now way going to try and create a system by which we grade our projects and creative endeavors. However, I do want to make an observation.

Everyone has their own working definition of excellence as defined by their experience. For instance, if you asked me about a moment when I witnessed excellence in church communication, I might mention the time that I saw an interactive, multimedia presentation in the middle of a Christmas service. However, you might mention a moment in which you were served communion, while an orchestra played behind a chorus of singing children.

I know, the illustration is not perfect but I hope that it illustrates my point. It is difficult to use the term excellence as a goal when the definition is so varied. People will come to believe the project is complete or more than satisfactory while you are scratching your head wondering how in the world they considered the project anywhere near completion. Sound familiar?

Now, I must admit – the term can seem helpful at times. And no, I don’t think we should remove all mystery or idealist values from the creative process. I just think that, for whatever reason, the term can become the proverbial carrot, always out of reach and never grabbed. Or worse, it can wind up being used as an easier to swallow synonym for perfection. If that’s the case, then those around us will be robbed of times of celebration which I believe are crucial to both a team dynamic and a creative individually.

For the majority of us, I don’t think we mean for this to happen. I know I don’t. But I’m just unsure of how to use the term to effectively communicate expectations. Perhaps the solution is to define it and invite others to utilize that definition. I’m not entirely sure. I’m merely asking if there is a better way. A way in which we can facilitate art to a certain standard without every having to critique a piece with the words, “It just doesn’t feel or seem right.”

How do you navigate this? What are ways that you’ve seen the term used? 

[Image via jnatiuk on]


Blane Young

Blane is a former Communications Pastor who now works with college students as a Campus Missionary with Chi Alpha at American University. He considers himself to be the second funniest person alive, fairly humble and an incredible chef because he once owned a recipe book for Ramen Noodles. He is happily married and is enjoying adjusting to life in Washington, DC.

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