Sunday Thoughts – Excellence

by tjok

“If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, 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 streetsweeper who did his job well.”
-Martin Luther King-

In one fine day, a client asked me “I really don’t get it, I hired people from the same base with your firm, similar or even the one with higher GPA – however your team is still better than mine”.

This statement struck me and brought me to one of the many interesting questions asked to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett when they visited University of Nebraska, Omaha. The script is as follow:

l’m Kaitlyn Pulcher, l’m an Actuarial Science Major and l’m a junior. And you both have several managers working under you, so l was wondering what are some steps that a new entrant into the job market can take to accelerate their journey towards an upper level management position.
Warren Buffett:
One thing l will tell you that l didn’t realize when l was getting out of school is how much the unusual person will jump out at you. And it isn’t because they got 200 l.Qs or anything like that. lt’s really because of just how they behave, you know what they’d bring, the energy they bring, the commitment they bring, the quality of how they do things, how they treat the people around them, all kinds of things, but you will jump out much more than you might anticipate. But a lot of the skills are just human skills. lf you get the best out of people around you, that’s a rare talent. And it doesn’t correlate with l.Q. lt correlates with, you know, an attitude toward the world and toward other people and it’s a talent that if you work at early and are really conscious about it, you know, you don’t have to show up other people, you don’t have to be smarter than they are, you want to bring out the best in them, it will pay huge dividends.

Bill Gates:
Certainly, the business Microsoft is in, the opportunity of an employee after they’ve been with the company, even say three years, people can start to rise. They can rise because they are good at strategy
and that’s mostly writing things. They can rise because they’re leaders of people. They can rise because they’re an individual contributor and we try to have career paths that are good for each of those things. What the ideal person, to be frank, is somebody who’s good at all three of those things. And as you get high up in the organization, the jobs really demand great individual thinking skills, being great with people, and great with strategy. it’s always stunning to me, given how many smart people there are and in these individual buckets there are quite a few people. But when you want that combination, it’s rare. And l don’t know why it is. It’s possible that if you are a good individual contributor that you are given so much slack that you are never encouraged to reach out to other people and get their ideas. The people who have the right combination, or, if they are not good at one of those things they partner up with someone and draw that missing piece out. Those are very rare. So when we looking for those top spots if we could find more people like that, it would be a fantastic thing.

Decoding Excellence: The Proposition
What is it then, the one thing that makes difference as posed in the opening questions? Or what is that one quality that Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are searching for?

I would like to suggest that the one thing is Excellence.

Some of us may have worked on Operations Excellence, Procurement Excellence, HR Excellence, and other projects with “Excellence” tag on it. But what is “Excellence” really? What crosses your mind when you think of “Excellence”? Is it perfection? Is it greatness? My brain is working real hard only to say “I don’t really think so”

You may have worked with the smartest people in the block, but you may not label them as “Excellent”. You may have worked with the most experienced, but you may be hesitant to label them as “Excellent”.
What I’m trying to say is that if you are not the brightest kids on the block, the most knowledgeable person, or the most skilled resources – then excellence is the thing for you to make differences. On the other hand, if you’re the brightest, the most knowledgeable, or the most skilled – then excellence is the next thing for you.

I would like to suggest 3 definitions for us to consider:

#1 Excellence is loving what you do and doing what you love
Love makes the impossible possible and love makes you go extra miles. Excellence is possible when there is love, be it love to your spouse or love on what you do.

One night as I watched a movie about Mother Theresa, I realized that Mother Theresa’s excellent work come from the depth of her loving heart focused on God and people. With this tender caring love, she’s been empowered to serve religiously the unfortunate people in Calcutta.

#2 Excellence is about having the right paradigm and the right belief
Your boss, your mentor, and your spouse can tell you the long list of do’s and don’ts, yet you fail to memorize them all. At the end of the day, you’ll simply follow your intuition, your belief, and the way you see things. Note that the right belief will lead you to the right thinking, the right decisions and subsequently the right doing.

Nobody believed that it’s possible to complete the mile run in less than 4 minutes until Roger Bannister broke the four-minute barrier in May of 1954. Before Bannister, many athletes had tried to break the record but they all failed. Why? Because they couldn’t overcome their own mental barrier. They, except Bannister, don’t believe that it’s something feasible to achieve.

Since I joined the firm, I’m always impressed with the ‘can-do’ attitude of the people. I have witnessed in many times how the people, with their ‘can-do’ attitude, don’t give up when facing challenges. They can survive in the ‘mission impossible’ situation and deliver values to the stakeholders.
“If you believe you can, you’re right. If you believe you can’t, you’re also right.”

#3 Excellence is caring about the small things that makes difference
Orison Marden put excellence as “doing common things uncommonly well”. C. Garfield explains it well that “the fact is, the difference between peak performers and everybody else are much smaller than everybody else thinks.”. The things you overlooked may be the ones leading you to excellence.

No one might have a better understanding on this point than the Olympic runners. They understand that oftentimes, what differentiates the gold medalist with the others is only a millisecond time interval. No wonder if every Olympic runner practices persistently to achieve this difference.

Decoding Excellence: The Benefits
These are some of the benefits of excellence:

Success: excellence will bring you many opportunities and rewards in due time
Dr. Richard Wiseman, in his best-seller book, The Luck Factor, has discussed why some people seemed to be ‘luckier’ than others. Like at work, these people tend to get better role, more responsibilities and higher paychecks. Why this happened? Dr. Wiseman’s explanation is pretty simple and direct. The ‘lucky’ people have a clear understanding that when he/she can successfully accomplish a responsibility given to him/her, people’s confidence and trust level of him/her will be increased.

As a result, people will entrust bigger responsibilities and more opportunities to him/her.

Satisfaction: life fulfillment, for you have done your best and live life of no-regrets
In Bloomberg Businessweek’s tribute edition to Steve Jobs, there is a quote from the CEO of the century about how we should live our lives, “We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and everyone should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? And we’ve chosen to do this with our lives. So, it better be damn good. It better be worth it.”

Honor: People will always look for you and look up to you – they will remember you for that ‘excellence’
Because of his special talents and outstanding achievements in the last couple of years, Lionel Messi has been considered as one of the best footballers in this sport’s history. Xavi Hernandez, the spaniard playmaker and Messi’s teammate in Barcelona FC, even commented that Messi is now in the same league as Pele and Maradona.

and for our family, friends, colleagues, and our communities, our family, and colleagues:
Inspiration: through our excellence, we motivates others to achieve their potentials
Jeremy ‘Linsanity’ Lin, point-guard of Knicks, has transformed himself as the NBA’s newest sensation. This popularity is not only because of his ethnicity as minority Asian-American, or his status as the first Harvard graduates who played in NBA, but also because of his success in breaking the stereotypes existed around Asian men who were stereotyped as incompetent in sports such as basketball.

Lin’s from-rags-to-riches story certainly has inspired many other Asian men and women to break stereotypes and gain successes in every field.

Role Model: People admires excellence, they will ‘pause and ponder’ on excellence
In mid 2008, Anies Baswedan initiated a program named Indonesia Mengajar (Indonesia Teach) that sends Indonesia’s best graduates to remote area lacking qualified teachers to teach in elementary school.

In one television interview, Anies shared that every teacher in Indonesia Mengajar is expected, not only to teach the students, but also to become a role model for the society.

By becoming a role model, these volunteers can inspire, not only the students but also the parents about the importance of education.

Decoding Excellence: Closing Note
Excellence is not equal to perfection. You don’t need to have everything: the brain, the look, the money – to be excellent. As Thomas Watson puts it “If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work.” And the rewards is promising. And it inspires you and people around you. And if you’re kinda religious people, you’re honoring God. So what you’re waiting for – let us strive for excellence !

Jakarta, March 11, 2012