What is "excellence"?

I’m on the Board of NAME – the Natioanl Association for Museum Exhibition. We’re putting together a new strategic plan, and one of the areas we wish to address is promoting excellence in museum exhibitions. We’ve done a fair amount of research and background reading, and while we see the word “excellence” freely bandied about, we still don’t have a real good description of what it is. It seems to be one of those things where “I know it when I see it, but I can’t put it into words.”

Sadly, words is what we need. So I turn to you, the Teeming Millions. How would you define excellence? How do you describe it? How do you know it when you see it? What are its characteristics? Feel free to give examples from your own experience or areas of expertise – I can extrapolate generalities and apply them to the particulars of museum exhibition.

With much thanks aforehand,

– Beruang

P.S.: I’m not sure this is the right forum. Since this question has no definitive answer, I thought it should go in “Great Debates.” But a quick look there shows that it is almost entirely used for religious discussions – even a debate over the best root beer is couched in theological terms. So I thought I’d give it a shot here.

“Excellence”, when used in mission statements, means that the organization strives to be the best that it can be in its field of endeavor. The implication is that most other organizations either get by, or settle with just above average. An organization devoted to excellence will not settle for second best, and will do what it can to overcome any obstacles that hinder this drive.

Webster’s dictionary defines excellence
as ‘the state or condition of being excellent.’ And now, the winner of the First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence…

Probably more answer than you really want, but have you read “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance” by Pirsig? Interesting book, and makes some nice connections analyzing the concept of “quality”. Maybe it could give you a few ideas. After all, if you can’t define quality, then what do you use as a benchmark for excellence?


When I read the OP my first thought, too, was of Pirsig’s book. Great starting point for arriving at a definition of excellence and a good read besides.

Aside to Veb – Although you didn’t get many votes (snicker) I’ve always thought your posts were eminently witty and sensible. Now I know your mind is right if you’re recommending Zen and the Art … If it weren’t for that darn beard I’d vote for you as my favorite poster!

My Child Is An Honour Student At Hogwarts

I think it is impossible to define. Look at TV and movie ratings. Some of the stuff that gets the best ratings I think suck. Other things I think are great get poor ratings. Perhaps in sports it is more easily defined. An individual performance can be easily viewed and compared with others.
As far as your museum goes, watch and see which exhibits draw the largest crowds. Let the unwashed masses be your guide.

Not so fast, you mucko!

Dammit! I wanted to be the first to recommend Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance! I settle for the third vote.

For a book on excellence and a degree on excellence (in which you get to write all of your excellent information) send your credit card number and $200 cash to:

John Brockman
6407 Sperry Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853

Please allow 30 days for delivery.

Your satisfaction guaranteed! Return in 30 days or less for no money back!

Well, I doubted I’d be first to recommend Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but I’ll 4th it, yipee