How to Go from Good to Great

 A few weeks ago, I was asked to present the keynote speech at the Richmond College Senior Recognition Dinner. Senior students who had excelled during their time here on campus were honored for all they had accomplished. As always when I speak at such events, I wanted to impart a few words that the audience could carry with them and think about over the following days and weeks.

At the event, I talked about something I had seen recently. As I remembered it, ESPN—the television sports channel—had done a show on a famous and very successful college basketball coach. The announcers wanted to find out how he had managed to be so successful for so many years. If you think about it, college basketball is extremely interesting and pays its coaches well. Why are there only a relatively few who seem to be successful on an ongoing basis? Yes, there are clearly some but it is not a very high number who seem to win consistently.

The coach being interviewed was Geno Auriemma, head coach of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team. The accomplishments of his teams are almost unbelievable. They have won 10 national championships, including the last three straight. The team has been in the Final Four for each of the last 8 years. The University of Connecticut team has had five undefeated seasons with Auriemma as t coach and once won 90 games in a row.

Those records are hard to even comprehend. Coach Auriemma is, indeed, a winner. He is a successful coach by any scale. He knows how to make great things happen.

On the ESPN show, the announcer asked him to talk about how he had been so successful. He chatted about several things but one thing stood out to me. Coach Auriemma said that he understood the difference between good and great. Right then, I wanted to jump up from the couch and find a pencil and paper and write that down because that is exactly what I believe.

Good wins more than half of the games. Great wins almost all of the games.

Good does better than the average person. Great does better than almost everyone.

If you have read these email essays for long, you know that I teach at the college level. I have long been fascinated by the number of students who are very satisfied to be good. Few have the ambition necessary to become great. Usually, they don’t even seem to understand that there is a difference between good and great. They work a bit harder than the average student and then are appalled when they get a B rather than an A. Jim Collins wrote an entire book (and one that is definitely worth reading) on companies that don’t settle for good but, rather, push on to become great. The title: “Good to Great.”

The world needs more people like Geno Auriemma who don’t settle for good. I think we have a culture that believes that “good enough is good enough.” But that is not always true. There are times when you really ought to be great.

Passing the CPA Exam is one of those times when you really want to be great—not good but actually great. Good work will probably get you a grade of 65-74 but it won’t necessarily get you to 75. For that, you need to be great. You need to be at your very best. You need to become a great student of accountant.

How do you do that when you are studying for the CPA Exam? How do you move from good (and close to passing) to great (and have the entire exam done)?

Here are a couple of suggestions:

First, put in more time. Few things move a person from good to great faster than the investment of time. Start out with a 10 percent jump. Right now. Today. Figure out how many hours you have been studying each week and then increase it by 10 percent. That jump is big enough to make a difference but will not wear you out completely. After a week or so at the new pace, up the schedule another 10 percent. A 20 percent jump in time spent on the CPA Exam can make a real difference. It can push you from good (close to passing) to great (passing).

Second, answer more questions and read more answers. In school, students read textbooks and sit through lectures. Those activities are important because the main goal is to learn the material. On the CPA Exam, the main (actually the only) goal is to get 75 points and a passing grade. That goal is best achieved by working problems especially if you will read the answers very carefully. You have to learn from those answers. In terms of passing the CPA Exam, nothing is better than missing a question, reading the answer, and figuring out how to get the topic correctly answered the next time.

These are the kinds of activities that turn a good CPA Exam candidate into a great one. And, that is exactly where you want to be as you get ready to pass the 2015 CPA Exam.

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