I'm torn on the Hitting The High Notes thing. Clearly good programmers are qualitatively better than mediocre programmers. They solve other problems than the mediocre ones and they're much better at solving the right problem.
It's got a lot to do with the "Never solve the problem as stated" rule. It is almost never the task to just do what you're told. That's what mediocre people do (if you're lucky), but the reality is that you need people who will help you solve netirely different problems than the one you stated.
On the other hand, I think the cult of excellence is frequently wrong. It's much more important to simply be than it is to be excellent. And I think most software proves that point on a daily basis. We're using what's there - we're not waiting for the very best fix to our particular problem. Being there simply rocks.