We’ve worked with lots of entrepreneurs at The Good Alliance, and honestly, I’ve never spoken to one who doesn’t want to create something exceptional and outstanding. And it’s that drive for excellence that pushes us into business or social enterprise in the first place.

But something I’ve come to notice in recent years is that our drive for innovation and excellence can often be our undoing. But before you start shaking your fists and shouting:

“What? Rubbish! That can’t be right, Cat!”

Let me explain. 

How the drive for innovation and excellence can damage your business.

Your brand is how you make people feel. And the feeling people have about you is made up of all the experiences and interactions they have that involve you and your business, right?

But here’s the thing.

The undoing of many potentially exceptional businesses and social enterprises is that they’re so hellbent on delivering in one area, it comes at the expense of others. And one great customer experience doesn’t make up for a string of bad ones.

So, what can you do to put this right?

You need to start with the basics. 

This is a lesson my first Creative Director taught me. 

As a young graphic designer – ever-ambitious and ready to create something the world had never seen before – I’d often present work where the rules of typography, colour and layout were not so much broken but completely ignored.

I thought it was innovative.

He thought it was a right mess.

There was a thread of a good idea, but legibility, balance, function all suffered as a result.

With the patience of a saint, he’d say:

“Get the basics right first, then we can talk about how you can make it more innovative.”

And I’d be sent back to start again, tail tucked firmly between my legs.

As with many of life’s most important lessons, it took experience and maturity to understand the profound wisdom in his statement.

Now I see that this lesson pertains to so many areas of life. From my fitness, where running marathons doesn’t help me bend over and pick up a pencil from the floor. To my business, where all the focus on creating a beautiful website doesn’t help one little bit if our marketing is terrible and nobody ever sees it. 

And as exceptional as I like to think I am, I’ve discovered I’m not at all exceptional in this respect. 

Should we lower our expectations?

From meeting an inspiring individual at a networking event, and then visiting their website that looks like it was put together by their 6-year-old nephew. To signing up for a programme with a modern and compelling sales page, only to find yourself having paid good money for something that looked like it had been hacked together decades ago. 

We’ve all encountered businesses where one part of the experience completely undoes everything else. And if we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes we’re all one of those businesses.

exceptional business

But we should be striving for innovation!

It’s true that what makes design – and businesses – outstanding are the moments when they break the rules. When they do something original and innovative. 

So yes, in an ideal world, we should be striving for innovation.

But then again, if that quest for excellence in one area is going to compromise our ability to deliver in another area, maybe we shouldn’t? 

Would dropping our standards from ‘exceptional’ to ‘good’ leave more room for innovation?

More often than not, if we hit the ‘outstanding’ level in one area of our business, it’s at the expense of another.


Because we only have a finite amount of energy and resources to apply to something. So, rather than reaching for a 10/10 in one or two areas – and then scoring a 2/10 in other areas. What would happen if we set the standard at a solid 7/10 across the board?

With everything working solidly and dependably, perhaps it would give us the opportunity to go above and beyond where it matters?

What do you think?

What do you consider exceptional?

Do you think being an exceptional business means hitting a 10/10 in some key areas, even if other areas suffer?

Or is a solid 7/10 in all areas where space for true innovation lies?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Oh, and before you go, don’t forget to check out our article, Why growing your business takes time.