The Art of Excellence

As a leader in your business, you are involved in creating strategy and delivering on those strategies. Delivery is where creativity and innovation intersect. Delivery is all that matters but the road to success is heavily mined with obstacles.

At the same time, the pursuit of perfection will get in the way of delivery. The objective may be to deliver excellent service, excellent product or an excellent experience, but excellence does not equate with perfection. The hard part is to know when the ratio of effort to improvement is too high and additional effort and cost cannot be justified.

The closer you get to perfect, the more difficult it becomes to improve. A six-sigma process is one in which 99.99966% of the products manufactured are free of defects, compared to a one-sigma process in which only 31% are free of defects. That is the defect level you would want if you have a heart pacemaker. For most other non lifethreatening processes, this level of perfection is not necessary.

For example, a small business is desperate for revenue. They are trying very hard to bring in new customers to reinvigorate a stagnant customer base that has cut back on purchasing during this recession. As the economy picks up, the opportunities for business are opening up. Customers are willing to try new vendors, and vendors have a chance to stand out in the crowd. This means providing exceptional customer service, being responsive and adaptive. This company has a chance to stand out. But their fear of sending out a proposal that is less than perfect is stopping them from getting business. Without a proposal, there’s no opportunity to win the business. Assuming the proposal is high quality and the relationship with the customer is good, spending extra days to put in graphics and tweak words that delays proposal delivery gives the customer the impression that their business is not important to the company. The customer doesn’t understand why it takes so long to meet their request. And the small company burns money every day that it doesn’t have revenue.

An asymptote is a line that continually approaches a given curve but does not meet it at any finite distance. The y-axis represents quality from poor to perfect, and the x-axis is effort. The curve of the line rises steeply from 0,0 and then sharply flattens out as the line goes to infinity on the x-axis (effort). Effort increases as quality approaches but never gets to perfection on the y-axis.


Business excellence is knowing when to deliver on the asymptotic curve. This is the art of excellence.

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