On Excellence: Just stop being ordinary

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ONE-MINUTE excellence?

I can sense the curling of your lips. While such a term makes me shudder, too, there's a gem in there - waiting to be discovered.

How does someone go on an effective diet? How do you stop smoking? How do you stop drinking?

In short, you do it - and it's done. Then you work like hell, the rest of your life, to stay on the weight-loss or boozefree or smokeless wagon.

A while back, I came across a line attributed to Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM. If you want to achieve excellence, he said, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent stuff.

The idea is profound.

Suppose you're a waiter and, for your own future's sake (forget the clowns who run the restaurant), you decide to set a matchless standard for service.


You do it. Now.

Sure you will be clumsy at first. You'll get a lot wrong. You will need to collect clues - by reading up, visiting other restaurants, listening to audio tapes, taking classes, tuning in to on-line electronic chat rooms. And, until the day you hang up your corkscrew, you will need to keep doing such things to maintain your edge - just as an opera singer or a professional athlete does.

None the less, you can become excellent in a nanosecond, starting with your first dinner guest tonight. Simply picture yourself, even if it's a fuzzy picture, as the greatest waiter ever, and start acting accordingly.

Put yourself in the lights on Broadway, as a galaxy class waiter; then follow your script with derring-do.

Does it sound wild? Silly? Maybe, but it isn't. For the first 99.9 per cent of getting from here to there is the determination to do it and not to compromise - no matter what sort of roadblocks those around you (including peers) erect.

The other 99.9 per cent (I know this adds up to more than 100 per cent, but that's life) is working like the devil to keep your spirits up amid inevitable storms, learn something new every day and practise that something daily, awkward or not, come hell or high water.

What holds for the waiter holds for the chief executive of the six-person or 16,000-person firm. (And for the supervisor with only four employees in the insurance brokerage).

So how long does it take you, as boss, to achieve world-class quality?

Less than a nanosecond to attain it. And a lifetime of passionate pursuit to maintain it. Once the fire is lit, assume you've arrived - and never, ever look back or do anything, no matter how trivial, that is inconsistent with your newfound quality persona.

Suppose you commit yourself to new heights in quality or service here and now. In your own mind, you are an instant Nordstrom (retail) or Motorola (manufacturing). But your next task - dratted real world - is to go through your boring in-basket.

What an opportunity. So you don't know much about Nordstrom or Motorola (yet]). None the less, respond to the first item in your in-basket as you imagine a Nordstrom or Motorola executive would.

A memo from a front-line worker complaining about a silly roadblock to improvement? A request to change vendors for office supplies? An irate letter from a customer or distributor?

'Nordstrom' it. 'Motorola' it. Act out, in a small way, your Nordstrom-Motorola fantasy of matchless quality.

Sure, if you keep it up for even a few hours, peers and subordinates and bosses will start looking at you oddly. Which is exactly the point - and your first tiny victory.

You are living a new life. Their misfortune is that they haven't figured it out yet.

Does all this amount to a half-baked pep talk better fit for a revival tent? Hardly. (And if you don't believe me, ask a friend in Alcoholics Anonymous, perhaps the most effective programme for change on the earth today.)

You see, the deeper point is that you will either change in a nanosecond - or never. It's true with booze, smokes, fat and world-class quality. A determined shift of mind-set is an all-or-nothing deal.

Fact is, I'm fed up to my eyebrows with executives (and folks of every rank) who talk about how l-o-n-g it takes to achieve change. Pure, unadulterated rubbish. It takes forever to maintain change ('one day at a time' - AA). It takes but a flash to achieve change of even the most dramatic sort.

One morning in Houston, almost five years ago, I was a non-exerciser. For a series of not very profound reasons, I went out at 5am and took my first bumbling speed walk.

Eleven minutes later (OK, that's quite a few nanoseconds), I was hooked. Every day I fret that I'll renege. It is a lifetime pursuit, which causes pain some days. (As I write, it is unseasonably cold, raining, and getting late). But as of that morning, I was a no-baloney, world-class, rudely dogmatic exerciser.

It is that simple. Honest.

TPG Communications

(Photograph omitted)