Being the Best of the Best | Bruce Turkel

On one of our morning runs last week, Stella was telling me about her son and how he wins at everything. He’s a high school golf champion, he always wins when they play Scrabble, and even though he doesn’t run regularly, he did run three miles with his marathoner parents and beat them too.
“It must be great to win at everything,” Stella said. “I’d usually hate someone like that, but he is my son.”

It got me to thinking how hard it must be to always win. Imagine being Bill Gates. One day, you’re ticked off about something and venting to a friend. “Well you know, Bill,” the friend might reply, “there’s always someone else who’s — [big pause] — oh yeah, sorry, I guess there’s not.”

I mean what does Gates do when he’s feeling blue? Call the Sultan of Brunei to commiserate?

My friend Adam Goldstein is the President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International. In his limited spare time he’s a competitive runner and much faster that a 52-year-old workaholic has any right to be. But maybe that’s because he’s also the hardest training guy I know. I see Adam when I pull up to the track at 5:30 on Tuesday mornings and his coach has already put him through a grueling regimen of laps and exercises.

Last weekend was the big race Adam was training for, so I sent him a text asking how he did.

“Mercifully 2:29. First time under 2:30 since 1977. (But a) 48-year old from Cayman ran the 800 in 2:17 so still a long way to go. Thanks for asking.”

2:17? I couldn’t have gone that fast if I was on a motorcycle. Truth be told, I couldn’t have run the race in 2:29 — or 2:45 — if I had hired my buddy to run it for me. 2:29 is awesome. But it’s not the best.

But here’s the problem with being the best: best according to whom? Does winning the race make you the best? How about all the other races? Which ones count and which ones don’t?

Rolling Stone magazine just printed a cover story about the 100 best guitar players of all time. The best according to them? Jimi Hendrix. Number two? Eric Clapton. Three? Jimmy Page. Four? Keith Richards.

Now granted, they’re all great players. And the judges, a who’s who panel of musicians and music journalists, were no slouches either. But c’mon. Who’s to say which of these players is really the best? Most influential, maybe. But best? That’s not possible, especially considering that the list didn’t even include guys like Stevie Vai, Robben Ford, Django Reinhardt, and Jorma Kaukonen. Not to mention all the astoundingly talented players who are strumming away in obscurity.

There’s another problem with being the best. How long are you the best for? While I’m writing this, the French Open has been delayed for rain so we don’t yet know if Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic is “the best.” But where is Roger Federer? It wasn’t too long ago that he was the winner of every single tournament out there and now he doesn’t even make it to the finals. Of course someone younger and better comes along eventually, but Rolling Stone said Hendrix was still the best and last time I checked, he’s still dead. Federer hasn’t stopped playing and winning. Certainly he deserves the same respect of being called “the best.”

There’s an old line about success in Hollywood. First they ask, “Who the hell is Frank Smith?” Then it’s, “Get me Frank Smith.” Before too long it’s “Get me a young Frank Smith.” Then, “Get me anyone BUT Frank Smith.” And finally, “Who the hell is Frank Smith?”

Clearly the title “The Best” is both ephemeral and fleeting. And in business, being the best brand is just as temporary a title. Remember when the word “Blockbuster” meant a great movie? Just a few years ago, Blockbuster was a huge brand, arguably the best video retailer around. Today, Blockbuster means a great movie again. And Netflix, which hastened Blockbuster’s demise, isn’t the powerhouse it once was either.

So perhaps the way to be the best brand is to simply be you. Or as Oscar Wilde pointed out, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

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