Saturday, November 3, 2007

Aiming for excellence

10/29/2007 Daily Journal

When Tom Peters wrote "In Search of Excellence" with Robert Waterman 25 years ago, "excellence" became a mantra in much of the business world.The book's litany of characteristics of successful companies - close to the customer, a bias for action, autonomy and entrepreneurship, to name a few - were repeated, studied and emulated in companies large, small and in between and became a part of the common business lexicon.National Public Radio named "In Search of Excellence" one of the three most influential business books of the 20th century, and it opened the market to a whole new business literature that took the focus off strategy, budgets and numbers and put it on people -employees and customers. It really was a harbinger of a shift in American business.Peters, who has spent the quarter century since its publication writing and consulting, was in Tupelo last week, still preaching his message that successful businesses are essentially about one thing: Releasing the creative talents and energy of people in the service of others.He appeared at the kickoff of the corporate fundraising campaign for HealthWorks!, a children's interactive health education center under development at the old Kroger building in Gloster Creek Village. The center, scheduled to open in fall 2008, is patterned after the original in South Bend, Ind., which was featured for its highly creative and innovative approach in a 2004 television production by Peters.Long-term plansPeters urged the Tupelo audience not to settle for making incremental progress in childhood obesity, which he described as the most serious problem facing the country. Why not think big - make this a model for the country by turning around not just Northeast Mississippi's obesity problem, but the entire state's.Don't settle for small progress or comparing yourself only to the rest of the state, he said. Aim higher. Tupelo's past achievements suggest it should be thinking in those terms, he said.It was more than inspirational rhetoric. Peters has a point - not just for HealthWorks!, but for any community or regional undertaking.Whether in health care, public education, economic development, neighborhood revitalization, downtown rejuvenation or any of a myriad of other common undertakings, Tupelo and Northeast Mississippi shouldn't settle for good enough, or even better than most in the state. World-class is the vision that will produce results that will be remembered.This community and region have been best when they aimed highest - the Wellspring site, for example. Peters points out that risk-taking and big thinking brings the criticism and debunking of the naysayers, as that project surely did. Yet had the region's leaders not thought big and taken risks, there would have been no Toyota.Communities, like businesses, need to be constantly reinventing themselves. And, like businesses, the best communities are those that unleash their people to stretch the limits of their imaginations.Pie in the sky? Only to those who haven't seen it work because they've never tried it.

No comments: