Recently, I read a book called Better by a surgeon named Atul Gawande. Though I enjoyed every chapter, there was one section that really hit home.

Gawande explains that for more than 40 years, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has been collecting information from every treatment center in the nation. CF is a congenital disease that, over time, ruins lung function. It is fatal.

The data provided by the treatment centers include the age at which each of their patients died. This results in a nationwide ranking system of facilities, with the ones that average longer-lived patients placing higher on the list. In 2003, the life expectancy for someone with CF was 33 years. But the patients at the top-ranked center were surviving until 47, with vastly better lung function.

What was going on?

Gawande spends time at two facilities: a middle-of-the-pack treatment center and the one ranked best in the nation. The middle place seemed great — dedicated doctors, state-of-the-art equipment, plenty of individual care. In reading the description, I couldn’t imagine what the other facility could do that would be much better. But after finishing the next section, I knew.

Dr. Warren Warwick, the man who heads up the No. 1 center, is like a hard-nosed coach who will settle for nothing less than winning the state championship, even if his team can’t breathe. When a patient’s lungs are functioning at 90 percent, Warwick aggressively pushes for 100 percent. If an instrument doesn’t do what he wants, he invents a new one. After coming up with a “better cough” that loosens more fluid from the chest, he requires every patient to use this new method. Treatment guidelines mean almost nothing to Warwick because he is constantly innovating. The man is passionate, relentless and highly creative.

Today, that center has a patient who is 67 years old.

So what does CF have to do with the pool and spa industry? Well, even in this down market, certain businesses are faring significantly better than others. In many cases, these healthier companies serve the same area and customer demographic as their less successful counterparts. Why are they stronger? My guess is that someone there thinks like Dr. Warwick. The best pool and spa professionals I’ve met are restless innovators who won’t accept defeat until the patient has taken that last breath. If sales are down, they use it as an opportunity to enhance customer service, upsell the clients they have and find fresh ways to attract new ones.

Most pool and spa businesses are average. That’s why the word exists. And there’s no shame in being middle of the road if that’s the best you can do. The only shame in a mediocre performance is accepting it as your fate. When it comes to your business, especially in this market, the stakes are too high to settle for a life span that’s anything less than spectacular.