I'm a firm believer in the importance of drive, ambition and focus in terms of individual personal development and in achieving company-wide strategic objectives.
Therefore I agree with Paul Arden that setting stretching goals is key to success. This was underlined by some of the performances in the Athens Olympics where many athletes surprised and delighted their supporters but not themselves because they had set themselves the ultimate objective of a gold medal many years ago and had been single-mindedly working towards this objective. I would go so far as to say that few of the winners were truly surprised, even though they may have given that impression to the media, because they knew that they where capable of being the best and the Olympics simply provided them with a platform.
Contrary to what some business leaders and commentators say, benchmarking and best practice will merely get you or your business to the middle of the pack. This is because benchmarking and best practice are about comparing yourself with others – namely your competitors. This leads you to imitation rather than creating your own future through innovation. Mortgage Intelligence does not simply benchmark against a selection of other networks when securing and developing exclusive mortgages with lenders, we set our own standards and create our own best practice. After all, if we simply measure ourselves against what currently exists we are never going to set the world alight. Spare a thought for what the great Olympians of the past such as Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis achieved. They didn't just win by an inch or a fraction of a second, they took their events to another level.
Economist John Maynard Keynes said: “The greatest difficulty in the world is not for people to accept new ideas, but to make them forget their old ideas.”
Philosopher Bertrand Russell went one step further by claiming: ” The resistance to a new idea increases as the square of its importance.” The point here is that in business, putting the past to one side is difficult since many senior executives are at the top because of what was important yesterday and due to conventional benchmarking and best practice techniques whereby organisations compare themselves with others that have done OK at certain core competencies. This approach can only lead to mediocrity.
A defining characteristic of successful people is that they make more mistakes than others because, as the extract says, they continually strive to be better than they are. Benny Hermansson of IKEA sums it up well: ” If you don't make any mistakes, you must be asleep.” At IKEA, mistakes are expressly allowed since they trigger learning and lead to new ideas and possibilities.
Tom Stewart, editor of Harvard Business Review, addresses the issue by suggesting that in addition to mission statements, firms should also have permission statements because failure happens.
With regard to the role of academic qualifications, I would agree with the author that they are too centred on the individual's ability to remember facts. They also focus heavily on the past rather than the future and it is predicting and shaping the future that creates business success. However, the typical 21 year old recent graduate looking for their first career job will have to meet the required academic standards in order to be shortlisted for interview – to get a foot in the door and thus gain the opportunity to wow the interviewer with their drive and ambition. There is clearly a balance to be found.
Perhaps Einstein and Victoria Beckham have both got the right idea. He once said: “It's not that I'm so smart, its just that I stay with problems longer.” It is this single-minded dedication to achieving specific goals that sets this odd couple apart and makes them both winners in their own way.