HomeOpinion & AnalysisIn pursuit of excellence

In pursuit of excellence

In the 1960s and 1970s, W Edwards Deming developed and introduced his quality-improvement methods into Japanese manufacturing. In two decades, Japanese products, which had been referred to as “Jap scrap,” became synonymous with “quality” and “super-engineering.” These quality improvement methods took Japan, within one generation, from a country that had been completely destroyed in 1945 to the number two economic power in the world. This transformation was built on the Japanese process called “kaizen” which means “continuous betterment” or “continuous improvement.”

inspiration with Cynthia C Hakutangwi

Martin Luther King Jnr
Martin Luther King Jnr

The mindset of excellence

Martin Luther King Jr (pictured) is quoted for saying that “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’” It is important to continually strive to make things better as you adopt the mindset that everything is a work in progress.

Benchmark against the best

What is it you are working on? Who are the people who are the best in this area? What are the results they have achieved? Set your targets to the same level as their best results, or even higher if you are feeling up to it. You need to be knowledgeable of benchmarks—they reveal how excellence is defined in any given area. Excellence is gauged by comparing an outcome with the generally accepted benchmark for that particular result. That is why achieving excellence demands more than just doing the best we can do. Our product and service must exceed standards that are established by others.

Pay attention to details

The pursuit of excellence will always involve an obsessive infatuation with details. Famous American designer Charles Eames said, “Details are not the details. They make the design.” Everything that exists is a compilation of details, pay attention to them. Take the time to get it right. Picasso used up no less than eight notebooks just for preliminary sketches of his revolutionary painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. It takes a lot of time to fill eight notebooks with sketches but he wanted to get it right so the time he did take. Try to “do it once, do it right” but if the end product is inferior, be willing to “do it again to get it right.” Excellence can be obtained on the first attempt, but if it isn’t, be willing to stay with it.

Are you satisfied with mediocrity?

You need to want to achieve excellence. The emphasis here is on what ‘you’ want, not what others want. Make sure the goal is something you set for yourself, because unless it is, chances are you don’t really want it. And if you don’t want the goal badly enough, it doesn’t matter what you try to do since the drive will not be there to keep you moving forward. John Gardner says that “Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” Why should you settle for mediocrity when you can have the extraordinary?

Believe that you can do it

Self-belief is paramount to every success. You need to first believe in yourself to get somewhere. If you don’t have self-confidence, who is going to believe in you? If you have often experienced low self-belief, look back at the times when you achieved something, regardless of how big or small it was. From there, build up your confidence and leverage it as you pursue your goals. As you begin to see results, your confidence will increase over time, which will create an upward spiralling effect.

Build concrete strategy and plans

Every goal needs a proper strategy and plan for it to come to life. Many people fail in their goals because they fail to follow-through with planning. The bigger your goals, the more important that you invest proper time in building your plan. Once you have set your goals, you need to work really hard. With every success, comes hard work. Without hard work, you cannot achieve results. People who try to find the easy way out are shortchanging themselves if they think they can achieve excellence without putting in hard work. If you observe around you, the people who seek out “get-rich-quick” methods are also the very people who do not achieve much in their lives. Hard work is the universal quality that will pay off in the long-term. Once you invest the due time and effort, the results will start coming in. As you invest your time and effort, it is important to focus your energy in the few key drivers of success which will lead you to the results you want. This way, you will utilise your efforts more effectively, which can be subsequently channelled into more value-added activities.

Avoid the trap of perfectionism

It is great to strive to do your best, but when that feeling becomes a compulsion, when you lose sleep because some project did not turn out right, or when nothing you can do feels quite good enough, you have veered into the unhealthy territory of perfectionism. It is important that you determine the difference between a healthy pursuit of excellence and an unhealthy need for perfectionism. When you fixate on doing something only one way, you limit your creative options and you miss opportunities to do it an easier or more playful way. It’s great to have a Plan A, but life may steer you in another direction, and that direction could be more rewarding. Perfectionists value themselves by what they do. Pursuers of excellence value themselves by who they are.

Excellence is a hallmark of your character, a part of your identity and a vital ingredient to the legacy that you leave for your posterity.

Cynthia Hakutangwi is a communications and personal development consultant, life coach, author and strategist. Wholeness Incorporated Coaching offers you strategies you can implement today to become a critical thinker and problem solver. E-mail: cynthia@wholenessinc.com. Facebook: Wholeness Incorporated.

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