It is amazing what people can do with effort over time.
Are you familiar with the great ancient Greek orator Demosthenes? Well, he was a stutterer, and the way he solved his problem was to go to the seacoast alone for years where he practiced speaking to the waves until he overcame his impediment. But it took time. He improved gradually. That was the key.
And that, in a nutshell, is my approach to continuous improvement. It’s a philosophy I began developing from observations I made in the classrooms and on the playing fields of my youth: I got equal satisfaction if I did better than last time, even though I also wanted to be best. The simplicity of this revelation is clearly presented in my delightful little book “Better Makes Us Best”.
“Better is as better does,” I wrote in Chapter Four. “Each person, each day. Not startling productivity increases by super heroes.” Underlying this philosophy of sensible, incremental improvement is a fundamental respect for the integrity and potential of each employee.
What advice I would offer leaders seeking to promote a better flow of communication from the plant floor through various layers of management?
I would say it’s extremely important for a manager to understand the structure which gives him or her authority is an artificial one. You must never forget that the people who work for you are unique individuals who want to participate as much as possible in the improvement and success of the company.
Not surprisingly, I attribute JP Industries’ (the company I Founded) success to the Better Makes Us Best philosophy.
In its first year of operations, JP Industries employed 56 people. Ten years later, that figure rose to the level of 7,000 and net income grew at an annual rate of 35 percent during most of the years prior to its merger with a lager industrial group.
As you’ve already gathered, there’s nothing mysterious about the Better Makes Us Best approach. It simply places a premium on people. It encourages skill development, the elimination of wasted effort and knowledge, and the creation of clear channels of communication. Of course, it also insists on improvement and, even more importantly, teaches a sensible approach to improvement through individual goal-setting.
In these increasingly competitive times, we’re seeing that a company’s success depends, more than ever, upon a solid team approach that understands the benefits of the approach of better on a continuous process. It’s an approach that empowers every individual to take responsibility for a company’s success by looking each day for ways to improve his or her performance in small ways.
Improvement doesn’t just happen, though. A company’s managers must see to it that employees are excited about participating in the improvement process.
It was with this goal in mind that I originally wrote and had Better Makes Us Best privately printed for our 7,000-member workforce. It reflects the spirit of establishing a goal of being “the best,” but also helps the company people understand precisely what this means.
The concept of incremental improvement is a basic one, really. In our modern societies, the sophisticated, the esoteric, and the convoluted often seem to be more in vogue than the simple, the basic, the straight-forward.
I’m grateful to many people for the understanding and effort that went into making Better Makes Us Best philosophy into a reality.
For the book “Better Makes Us Best” please send an e-mail to