Every Sunday morning I have the same routine. I get up really early, pour myself a coffee (a single origin Yirgacheffe), have some eggs and watch a documentary before going on a long bike ride out into the Surrey Hills somewhere.


Today I watched “Last Man on the Moon” with Eugene Cernan and “From Addiction to Recovery” with Russell Brand.


Eugene Cernan is now a rancher in Texas, not far from the Houston space center where he served most of his missions. He was the last person to set foot on the moon back in 1972 – the year I was born. And Russell Brand… well, he’s Russell Brand.



As you can imagine, these were both two wildly different films, but they unexpectedly left me with the same thought – “it’s not enough to do your best“.


Astronaut Eugene Cernan was inspired from an early age by his father who gave him a piece of advice he still holds dear today,

“I don’t care whether you’re in a classroom, on a football field or whatever you do ~ just do your best and some day I promise you… you’re going to surprise yourself”.


Russell Brand interviewed many addicts, drug tsars, medical professionals and politicians for his documentary – and each time the debate pretty much followed the same lines:

  1. Should drug addiction be viewed (and treated) as a biological condition or a psychological one?
  2. Is the solution medication or self-regulated abstinence?

As someone who “just decided” to stop taking drugs over 10 years ago, but made sure that he had the requisite support structure around him, Russell believes that with the right help, people have the ability within them to go drug free – and not need to depend upon doctors for drug substitutes such as methadone. Some people misunderstood Russell thinking that he was just saying, “Come on mate, if you try your best and stay focused, you can beat this addiction on your own“.


Astronaut Eugene Cernan on the other hand was suggesting (unintentionally), that if you work hard and do your best in every endeavour, then you will achieve your dreams.


Obviously neither are true. Both require huge amounts of focus, discipline, advice and mentoring from the right people to achieve their desired outcome – whether that’s setting foot on the moon or coming off drugs.


A quote from my favourite analyst, a data scientist from the 1960’s called W. Edwards Deming sums all this up perfectly,

“It’s not enough to do your best. You must know what to do and then do your best”.



This… THIS… is what I think about constantly. And these two insightful and inspiration films reminded me why it’s so important to have the right people (and the right technologies) around you.


I once heard Michael Jordan’s personal trainer telling a group gathered around him that it’s not enough to do your best – and you shouldn’t try to be great at everything – and you certainly shouldn’t focus on your weaknesses.

Talent and success are not the same thing“, he told a gym full of wide eyed hopeful basketball players, each hoping that they’d make it to the pros one day. “The world is full of incredibly talent people who are never successful at anything“.


Hustle is important.


Working hard is important.


But knowing what to focus your efforts on (and why) is more important than anything.


I’m putting together a leadership presentation at the moment, and some of the slides I may talk about at length are about finding purpose in what you do. Telling people to do their best is going to help everyone about as much as putting a motivational bumper sticker on your laptop or re-posting inspirational quotes across Instagram.


This is why data is so important. Insights help us see where we should focus our efforts. Without them, we can easily end up wasting our time, efforts and resources focusing on the wrong things.




Because insights are things we don’t know, should know, but have the ability to change.


Knowing what to focus on is important. You might be doing your best in an English test, because you really suck at English. But you might be excellent with numbers. Many people would tell you to work harder on your English to get your grades up. Smart people would tell you to ignore your English and work harder on your maths.


It’s a provocative view and not a world view held by many in academia (because it only works for those most talented), but it’s what separates the good from the great. One of the best business books I’ve ever read is “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and he talks a lot about this. He even coined a concept (borrowed from a poem a few thousand years old), about the areas in which where you should be trying your best.



Doing your best is always the right thing to do.


“I don’t care whether you’re in a classroom, on a football field or whatever you do ~ just do your best and some day I promise you… you’re going to surprise yourself”.


In some circumstances, serendipity might actually step in, and those words from Eugene’s father may come true, because you accidentally stumbled upon something worthwhile and meaningful that you can be the best in the world at. But more often than not, people end up chasing the wrong dreams because they were were doing their best, but they weren’t doing what they we best at. BIG difference.


Steve Jobs always used to say, “I’m more proud of the things we didn’t do than I am at what we did”. His quotes are tired, and overused (especially by me), but they are as relevant as ever. He understood focus better than anyone. Technology moves fast and you can’t afford to stand around waiting for serendipity. Jobs was successful at what he did because he waited until he knew what to do, and they he chased it relentlessly.


But in most cases, doing your best isn’t enough.


You need to KNOW what to do, and THEN do your best…



Image credit: Hugh Macleod ~ Gapingvoid


ps. Need a GREAT book to read that covers all this stuff?


Relentless by Tim Grover, (Michael Jordan’s trainer) is not for everyone – it’s a hard hitting and aggressive book about being the best at what you do – but it’s one of the best “motivational” books I’ve ever read that really kicked my ass. Check it out (or doenload the audiobook). You won’t regret it…




Communications Designer @IBM • Climate Reality Leader • Lover of Old Business Books, Clever Technology and the NHS • Based in London, UK.

%d bloggers like this: