Heavily used machines are considered great when the quality of their output is constant with no statistically significant variances over time. In other words, they consistently produce according to their exact specifications especially long after the end of expected useful life. We, on the other hand, cannot simply maintain good quality in what we produce. We must continuously show improvement in our results (such as progressively advancing resumes, higher levels of education and achievement, etc.)… and many of us do.
Few artists are able to produce top music hits decade after decade. Few authors’ every work is considered a timeless classic. Few portfolio managers can beat their benchmarks through every market while improving against negative factors such as portfolio growth and constantly changing socioeconomic and geopolitical landscapes. Few Olympians maintain record scores for decades. These people represent the tail of a bell curve that’s infinitely approaching zero.
Unfortunately this also applies to companies (and teams, governments, organizations). Few of them have been or will be around for decades and even fewer for centuries. Why should companies be any different, especially given that even with 85% employment, they in aggregate are employing the very large majority of the human bell curve? Why should we expect more from them?
One reason is that they have the advantage of diversification. If each member in a team of five members has only one great product idea, one great initiative, one great article, then the team has potential for five great achievements. Therefore, a company with five such teams has enough potential for twenty five great achievements, products, or services at a minimum. Some companies also have the advantage of hiring top talent in the first place who have the potential to produce far more than one great work over their lifetime. Great companies, with thousands of employees should have thousands of great new accomplishments that should last them for centuries. Especially since their workforces change over time with each change bringing fresh new perspectives and strengths into the mix, they simply have no excuses to arrive at a place where, for example, the US automakers and the financial services companies before them found themselves these days. Maybe it’s a sideeffect of satisfaction with performance that meets or exceeds expectations. Instead, perhaps we should see ourselves and everyone around us as people who are two, or five steps away from the great breakthrough, the achievement of a lifetime, our one (or more) contribution to human progress. I’m sure once we achieve that, we will invariably want to keep going for more…