An optimized organization constantly moves forward.
There’s an idea in Eastern philosophy that says, “Perfection is unknowable.” Does it mean that perfection is too hard to achieve, so we should just quit? Is it a riddle that rationalizes the gap between what we want and what we expect?
Consider these moments in history:
When Apple launched the first iPod, its design was hailed as breathtakingly original. It quickly became both a commercial and cultural success.
Toyota was once the world’s premier automaker. It held a record for unsurpassed quality that was once thought unbeatable.
NASA saved three astronauts who were in a damaged spacecraft hurtling towards the moon. The challenge was unprecedented and unimaginable – but the engineers were undaunted.
In each of the instances above, none of the people involved knew with absolute certainty that their efforts would lead to success. Nevertheless, they held their course and worked hard. But a lot of people work hard and fail. A lot of people aspire to perfection but never quite hit the mark. Yet, the word perfection adorns hundreds if not thousands of mission statements for corporations and organizations all around the globe. The fact is, perfection is unknowable because we don’t know it until we see it. That’s why our attention should be on the journey.
Perfection IS always just beyond our reach. To find it, we must watch the horizon carefully like a mariner on the high seas and let nothing miss our attention. Our eyes must snap to the smallest hint of opportunity. Then that’s when the work begins for continuous improvement.
There’s nothing revolutionary about the idea of continuous improvement. The key is that you must constantly look for things to improve. If you want the highest quality achievable, then you have to push beyond the status quo, reach beyond your expectations and expect the greatest result from the smallest action. Rather than fuss over perfection per se, work on every nuance to move the bar upward, inch by inch.
Here are three steps that you can take with you on your journey to perfection:
Accept perfection as everyone’s goal. Not just for the organization, but for yourself as well. When you raise the quality level of your products or processes, set the bar high and keep raising it. A better average is not the goal; if you want perfection, you must aim higher.
Worry about the details. Make your optimization process the means of knowing every detail about your product or service. Filter good news and bad news through your protective paranoia and keep asking yourself: “Did we do everything possible? What can go wrong? Will our design and solutions really work?”
Prepare your team for the pursuit of perfection. Some may not have the passion that you have, but here’s where you must make them understand why ”good enough” has to be treated as merely a starting point, not the finish. Show them why the extra effort toward greater quality is a benefit to customers and employees alike.
Sometimes “good enough” is cost-effective and profitable, but when is ‘good enough’ ever sustainable? What will happen when a competitor shows up with a similar product that is better or just cheaper? What will you do then?
We need only look back to the so-called Japanese industrial invasion of the late 1960s to understand the implications of ‘good enough’ complacency. It is, after all, what lead to Japanese dominance in auto making. Quality may have been the Japanese secret, but optimization made it sustainable. Now, all three major American car manufacturers practice some form of optimization.
Once the basic concept is understood, optimization makes complete sense. You will never go back to any other way. Perfection may be beyond the horizon, but success comes to those who have their eyes fixed toward the future.
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