Why Tony the Tiger thinks you’re great, and doesn’t give a shit who’s the best

Tony the Tiger, mantiger, myth, legend.
It’s all about being a tiger, an animal. But it’s not about being the best…

Here’s the standard scenario. Kid isn’t sure he can do something, Tony has faith in them and gets them to eat Frosted Flakes. This brings out the tiger in the kid and everyone is impressed, queue ending and “They’re Grrreeeeat!”.

Now what’s going on here? 

There’s been an intentional decision to focus on positive change and it’s almost a perfect development of a story. They set the stage for an obstacle that needs to be overcome, the Frosted Flakes work as a agent of change, the subject undergoes a transformation and fulfills their goal, and this is reinforced with positive affirmation.

What I want to highlight here is that the affirmation, and by association the goal, is Great.
Put this in contrast with another aspirational word Best. If we look at Great it signifies that you are able to do something and that you are able to do it well, it’s an achievement of a high level of skill. It doesn’t need to know the skill level of others for comparison. When we examine the meaning of Best it indicates that something produces a larger advantage or skill directly in comparison with others.

By focusing on Great Kellogg has made it so the achievement is personal and does not require comparison. This also makes it so the celebration is of success, not of victory over someone else, so for success there’s no need for winners or losers.


Now let’s take this approach and pivot it to programming.

I was just taking a personality test from Criteria as the first step in a job application. It was a lot of the usual questions, how easy to you get angry, do you have trouble focusing, are you driven to complete tasks, do you set and achieve goals. As I was going through the questions I started getting impressed with how well they could isolate personality traits, and I also realized that, while there were some comparative performance questions, they weren’t focused on if the person was the best. The questions did probe for information that could show if the person was driven to be great, because this is a trait that can be judged without comparison data.

Comparisons, comparisons, how do you compare applicants?

As a developer I need to be ready for any number of coding challenges. I might get a take home challenge, white board interview, have a pair programming coding session. I’ve discussed the benefits and drawbacks to each one with instructors, friends and colleagues and it seems like everyone has a different opinion. What I have heard consistently from the people that are doing the hiring is that they’re trying to get a good apples to apples comparison, and they don’t think it’s entirely possible.

So here’s my suggestion. If you’re an employer find a couple of methods that you like, assume that you aren’t going to be able to get a perfect comparison, and make sure that you have metrics that don’t require comparison… and will tell you if the person is great.

If you’re like me, and you’re the person applying to jobs, stay focused on improving your skills. Use feedback to get better but remember that being great is more important than being the best.

Show them that you’re a tiger. Show them what you can do. You’re Grrreat!!!

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