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Posts Tagged ‘excellence’

With the 2008 Olympics now only a few days away, we’ll have another opportunity to witness how much higher, faster and stronger athletes have become. Having endured countless hours of gruelling training, stringently monitored diets, and worked on carefully designed competition schedules and race tactics, many can expect to achieve great returns in the form of higher standards and superior performances.

In his recent post about the dysfunctionality of business, Leberecht asks why this mentality apparent in sport and the arts is lacking in the world of business. In particular he asks:

[T]he operational rigor and prowess that has long been a calling card of companies like GE – has that become a nostalgic idea in the work-life balanced world of millennials? Do commitment and attention to detail still matter? Is perfection a desirable goal at all in the accelerated economy of permanent beta?

A ‘good is good enough’ work ethic clearly wouldn’t cut it at Blackstone. In his recent HBR article ( June 2008 ) Stephen A Schwarzman reminisces about his track coach’s advice shouted during bitter cold training days (“Remember – you’ve got to make your deposits before you can make a withdrawal“) and how that translates into business practice, viz meeting a deadline simply isn’t enough if the output isn’t 100% correct. He advises that unless you’re completely sure about the validity of the analysis, don’t put anything forward. Instead insist on more information and doing extra laps around the intellectual carpark.

I’d like to think I subscribe to a concept of excellence, commitment and attention to detail. But I also wonder what the opportunities and costs are for me in adopting this line. On the one hand, I get tremendous satisfaction from having done the best I possibly could with whatever I do. On the other hand, that takes time, and I probably output less than somebody who is going for 75% rather than 100%. But I guess I’m not well placed to deliver an objective opinion about the quality of the outputs.

In commercial terms, I’ve regularly heard the proverbial comparison between the ‘Mini’ and the ‘Rolls Royce’. Of course, Agile methods like SCRUM help us to build the best system possible within the budget available. But, too often there is an expectation that a system can be developed or social tools put in place without adequate investment in analysing the root causes of key issues which need solving, and designing solutions without the people who are actually going to use the tools. Is it then any surprise that the deposits aren’t going to cover the withdrawal?

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