This sounds harsh, doesn’t it? It sounds cruel, and it also sounds unattainable. How can you not, at some point, work with unexceptional people? I have three tips for you.
Avoid people who do poor work. I am good at many things, but I am a lousy baker. I am either too rough with the pie crust and too delicate with the bread dough, or vice versa; whichever of those is bad to do, that’s what I do. I am sure that if I wanted to learn how to bake, I could and I would do it well. Given all of the other things I want to do in life, the things that I care about, baking it low on my list. In a strict cost/benefit analysis, I don’t see an advantage in doing myself what can be accomplished by going to be bakery, with better results and a smaller expenditure of time and resources. If you’re a baker, am I the kind of person you want to work with? No.
You do want to work with Katie. She knows the how’s and the why’s and has memorized all of her grandmother’s recipes for cakes and pies. In addition to being an exceptional illustrator, seamstress, educator, traveling companion, and many, many other things, she is also a baker. What she is not, however, is a cook. I will never be able to teach her. It is something she has no interest in learning, so she will never be exceptional. Left to her own devices, she would rather throw tortillas and cheese in the microwave so she can hurry up and get back into the studio to make art.
In most cases, people who do poor work don’t lack talent, they lack passion and interest. They have no desire to learn, or worse, they have been convinced that they’re unable to learn.
Avoid people who are unreliable. You have deadlines, you need an extra set of eyes, an extra set of hands, and your portion of the project is dependent upon someone else getting their piece done on time. They’re late. They’re always late. The work is shoddy, as if they threw it together at the last minute. You can’t count on them to get what you need, when you need it.
As with avoiding people who do poor work, most people who are unreliable lack a desire to do whatever it is they’re being asked to do, or at the very least they lack confidence. If their heart’s not in it, why ask them to do it?
Realize that everyone is exceptional at something. Don’t attribute to malice, or stupidity, or laziness, what can be chalked up to a bad fit. Whatever you’re doing, you will encounter people who do not want to be there, doing that. They are good at something, though. Help them find what that is, leverage it and learn from them. Otherwise, don’t work with them or at least minimize their impact.