‘A’ students teach the ‘B’ students how to work for the ‘C’ students

“The ‘A’ students teach the ‘B’ students how to work for the ‘C’ students.”

Come again?

“That’s right: The ‘A’ students teach the ‘B’ students how to work for the ‘C’ students.”

He could see the puzzled look on my face.

You see, one of the benefits of coaching several businesses across a wide-range of industries and geographies is that I get exposed to a lot of unique ways of seeing business and seeing the world. In fact, I was in Israel doing some Visioning work with one of my clients for his business when he looked up from his notebook and broke it down:  

“You see, the ‘A’ students are the ones who have mastered how to play within the lines. They are great observers. They excel at working within a system or structure. They follow the rules and are groomed to be comfortable leading when called upon. Because they have been so well trained, they know how to do this for others. 

‘B’ students often tried their best but just didn’t have the same focus, skills, or extra mojo to excel to the same degree. They follow along enough, but are a step behind. Yet they are just as trainable.”

He saw me waiting for the punchline.

“The ‘C’ students are not engaged in the structure and system in the same way.  They daydream about a whole other way of making their mark that doesn’t fit into the ‘system.’ They are the disruptors and the ones who are not as bought into needing the approval and validation of teachers, their parents or the identity around achievement that a lot of ‘A’ and ‘B’ students can fall prey to. Their passions lie elsewhere and they do enough to get by but focus on things they care more about.” (He clearly identified as the ‘C’ student). 

I could feel my inner ‘A’ student getting restless hearing this. He wanted to believe the story he had always been told that he was the one primed for success and ingenuity. 

“Now don’t get me wrong,” my client said. “Not all ‘C’ students are brilliant entrepreneurs who just need to create and find their own context to thrive. Some of them are just lazy or doing the minimum to get by.  Yet you’d be surprised how many genius ‘C’ students are flying under the radar just because they don’t fit into the school system of standardized testing, regurgitating lessons, etc.”

As much as I wanted to argue, I could sense he was onto something that I hadn’t really thought about in this way before.

In fact, Richard Branson recently posted an article on this very topic: Top of the class isn’t everything. He left school at 16 years old to pursue his passion of creating and publishing a youth magazine. One thing led to another and he eventually founded Virgin Records and then Virgin Atlantic. Taking the leap from school, or a set infrastructure can be a scary thing. Yet being willing to think outside the conventional box is what truly separates the good from the great.

In fact, the willingness to go your own way is often the very thing that blazes innovation. This recent article discusses how most valedictorians don’t become billionaires or change the world. Researcher Karen Arnold found that "Valedictorians aren't likely to be the future's visionaries. They typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up."

This conversation had me re-appreciate that leading can be found anywhere and it often ventures ‘outside the lines.’ How can institutions and company cultures do a better job of inspiring creative and innovative engagement with everyone on the team, not just those raising their hands? 

So are you listening to that inner conversation that may have a different cadence than the voices around you?  What will you do with that?