Best or Better? Which is better?

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Years ago when I was working in the TQM or Total Quality Management consulting profession, we used to say that the “Best was the enemy of the Better.”   I am not sure who this saying originated with, but the meaning was very clear. When you think you are the “Best” you have little or no motivation to be even better. Remember the Avis ad “We try harder because we are number two.”   The “King of the Hill” has only one place to go and that is down. All champions know that their tenure is short lived. It does not matter whether it is chess, motorcycle racing or the world of Hollywood stardom; those who are on top today, will soon be displaced by someone who is better, smarter, faster or more talented tomorrow.

“Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.”  ― Marvin J. Ashton

better and betterA number of years ago, I went to a Masters Swim meet. The winner in the Men’s 100 meter Freestyle division was 60 years old. They announced his winning time along with the following interesting fact. Forty years earlier, he had been captain of the Yale swim team and his time in the 100 meter freestyle was a national collegiate record. The time that he swam the 100 meter freestyle in at the master’s event was the same time as his collegiate record. He was still swimming as fast as he did forty years earlier. Nevertheless, his time in today’s event would not even quality as a high school record anyplace in the world. Times change, progress marches on. Athletes are younger, bigger, faster and smarter than years ago. Ironically, so are chess players. Look at the records of the world’s top chess players, and you will see a pattern of increasingly younger players attaining Grandmaster status.

better-work-world-wants-to-help-you-find-your-next-employee-for-free-if-you-will-just-let-us-place-the-people-you-do-not-hire-3-638The United States has the best workers in the world! I don’t know if this statement is true or not, but if you believe it, you are treading on thin ice. If you think your employees are smarter and better than any other group of employees, will you be motivated to train, educate and continue developing your employees? If you believe that you have the best products in the world, will you be motivated to continue improving your products or will you rest on your laurels because “you are the best?” Many organizations have developed mission and vision statements proudly proclaiming their desires to be the “Best organization in the world” or the leader or some other “Best” attribute. See the following examples:

  • Ameren’s mission is to generate electricity, deliver electricity and distribute natural gas in a safe, reliable, efficient and environmentally sound manner. Our vision is to be the recognized performance leader of the U.S. electric and gas utility industry. Being a performance leader means we will achieve operational excellence, industry-leading customer satisfaction and superior financial performance.
  • American Standard’s mission is to “Be the best in the eyes of our customers, employees and shareholders.”
  • Our mission at Avon Corporation is to operate the best specialty retail business in America, regardless of the product we sell.

The three examples above are only from the “A” company names in an alphabetical list of Fortune 500 companies. If you went through the entire list of Fortune 500 Companies, you would find dozens of other such statements with organizations proclaiming their desire to be the: Best, industry leader, provider of choice, etc. Few would challenge the merits of what sound like such high minded and laudatory goals. However, the lack of challenge is dangerous. Dr. W. E. Deming used to remind us that you are only as good as your competition. Great athletes and great performers tend to stand out when the quality of their competition is profound.

There is a certain level of “mindlessness” to any goal of being the best. It implies that once there, the game is over. 1852110-Make-BetterYou have won and you can now reap the harvest of your hard work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ingemar Stenmark is considered to be one of the greatest skiers of all time. In some events, he is listed as the greatest. He won 86 major races in his career. At age 25, he won his last major medal! Michael Phelps set the world record for the 200 meter freestyle in 2008. Less than a year later, his record was broken by nearly a full second by Paul Biedermann. Michael Phelps is now 29 years old and is said to be trying to make a comeback. Usain Bolt holds the world’s record for the 100 meter sprint. He is now 28 years old. How much longer will Usain be on top? In the world of professional sports, 29 is considered “old age.”

Even as a kid in drawing class, I had real ambition. I wanted to be the best in the class, but there was always some other feller who was better; so I thought, ‘It can’t be about being the best, it has to be about the drawing itself, what you do with it.’ That’s kind of stuck with me.” — Damien Hirst

Professional chess players are in many ways not much different than professional athletes. One trains his/her body, while the other trains his/her mind. The world’s top chess player today is Magnus Carlsen. He is ranked number one in the world and is the current World Chess Champion. He became a Grandmaster at the age of 13 making him the second youngest grandmaster in history. At the age of 19, he was the youngest player in history to be ranked number one in the world. He is all of 24 years old today. The current reigning youngest Grandmaster is Sergey Karjakin who in 2002 attained the record at the ripe old age of 12 years and seven months. One would think that in an area which depends on brain cells rather than muscle cells, that age and experience would trump youth and innovation. Such is not the case as history repeatedly proves. Whether in chess or sports, the advantage goes to the young.

better poemThose who think they are the best will soon be supplanted by the better.   What makes one better is more than simply youth. Training, DNA, techniques, equipment, methods, diets, computers and other technologies all contribute to the constant emergence of competitors that are better, faster and smarter. In business, your competition will produce better, faster and cheaper products today than they did yesterday. The world is not and never has been static. Dynamic forces are forever changing the landscape. Anyone who thinks they have a lock on being the best is in for a big surprise. The best do not last very long. The “king or queen” of the hill gets knocked off in a nanosecond today as compared to a microsecond yesterday.   Tomorrow the King or Queen will only last for a picosecond.

I don’t believe you have to be better than everybody else. I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be.Ken Venturi

Those who try to be the best will never succeed for very long. Those who set their goals at being better and better will continue to develop products and services that meet the needs of their stakeholders whether these stakeholders are customers or simply admirers. No one can forever be the best but it is simply foolish to assume that once you are the best, that the job is done. In business or in life, the turtle always beats the hare because she simply keeps on trying and trying and trying. The race is not to the swift but to the diligent.

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.”   Ecclesiastes 9:11 

Time for Questions:

Which is better, best or better? Do you think we should continually try to be better and better or should we stop when we are the best? What happens to those people who become the best? Have you ever been the best at anything? What was it like? How long did it last?

Life is just beginning

“The beginning of thought is in disagreement – not only with others but also with ourselves.”  ― Eric Hoffer,




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