“Seldom do we completely overcome even a single fault, nor do we aim at daily improvement.” (Thomas A’ Kempis).
I’ve been doing some thinking lately. What drives people to write so many books? And, more perplexing, what drives people to read so many? Here’s my theory: we all know that we have to do better. I mean that quite literally. We have to do better. We have to do life better, marriage better, and in this arena, we have to do business better.
It’s been years since I read The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. But I believed then, and I believe now, that his key point is true: we are all lazy. No, we do not lay around on the couch all day. We put in the hours. We (try to) get our work done. But we are almost intentionally obstinate, refusing to work on the parts of our (business) life that need to be improved. We do the same things in the same way, hoping that we won’t have to grow or change. It is simply easier to avoid the “I’ve got to do better” tasks.
But we do know better. We admire those who aim at constant improvement. One of my favorite books (a small, powerful, quick read) is by one of the best in history at aiming for better: I Can’t Accept Not Trying by Michael Jordan. He knew that he could always get better, and do better. And he did. We know we should aim for this same lofty ambition.
Or, consider the NFL players (any sport will do). At the elite level, the push for constant improvement is relentless. Drills, hours staring at game films, scouting the opponents, more drills, over and over again, making each week’s efforts a little tougher, a little more challenging, all in the hopes of getting better.
We’ve provided a lot of synopses over the last ten years. Many of the titles themselves reveal the call to better: Results that Last (because we can all point to results that don’t last), or, consider this quote from Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management: “Even the world’s “most admired” companies aren’t as adaptable as they need to be, as innovative as they need to be, or as much fun to work in as they should be.” In other words, even the best companies aren’t always doing better at getting better.
Warning: here is a subtle danger. Reading about getting and doing better is not the same as actually getting and doing better. Attending the First Friday Book Synopsis, or reading good business books, may expose you to all sorts of steps you can take toward better. But it is still up to you (yes, and up to me) — we have to actually do better. Reading about it can provide an illusion, a substitute. But there is no substitute. There is only stark reality: What about you? (What about me?) Are you better than you were a year ago? Five years ago?
“To grow is to change, and to have changed often is to have grown much.” (John Henry Newman).