I was talking to my business partner and good friend, James Western, in the hallway one day when he said something that the more I think about the more profound it gets in my mind. He said something like “why is it that less successful people can’t see that it’s the things that successful people do that are different than what they do that makes the difference between success and failure (and are almost always hard things to do)?” The stunningly simple insight is that it must be possible to see what successful people do just by observing. Yet even when unsuccessful people KNOW what successful people do, they still don’t do it. Why? Because it’s not a knowing problem, it’s a doing problem. And not just doing once, but doing persistently.
Almost no behavior if done once leads to a significant outcome. Lasting, impactful outcomes happen only after persistence over long periods of time. The principle is ubiquitous. Natural forces act in small but consistent ways over eons of time. Think of great canyons carved by persistent rivers and ice. In the same way, businesses are built, character is defined, and lives are changed. The trick is doing the right things for the right length of time.
How does persistence apply to individuals? Persistently applying best practice is the first step to achieving desired outcomes. It’s like table stakes. If you want to play, you have to ante in this effort. But true greatness requires an effort even beyond this. It requires one to innovate to the next level of process. Better processes and practices provide competitive distance that over time will shift the balance of value and then share in your favor. But the key observation is that it is the persistent application of existing best practices that often leads to the enlightened discovery of that innovative next level of performance that truly leads to competitive advantage.
How does individual persistence benefit the organization? It won’t if it’s not shared. We’ve all been on or seen teams that have one or two great performers who don’t do anything to transfer their best practices to the rest of the team. They feel justified in their own performance, not realizing that not only would sharing their best practice help other team members, but as other team members adopt their best practices the ability of the team to discover new best practices, even for the best performers, increases dramatically.
So, to recap, persistently applying best practices will lead to desired outcomes. Consistently improving the best practices we persistently apply will ensure that we create competitive advantage. The steps to success are:
First, observe carefully what best practices are for succeeding in your chosen field. What do the best people in the best organizations do and how do they do it?
Second, religiously implement best practices. An organization usually does not win tomorrow’s sprint if they cannot walk today.
Third, innovate new paths. Knowledge of current best practices applied will help organizations blaze new trails and set new standards.
Finally, share newly discovered best practices with the rest of your team. When teams’ great performers don’t share their best practices with the rest of the team, the team and the organization operates at a suboptimal level.
Time passes, regardless of what we do in it. Make sure your time is filled with best practice activities. Be relentless in the application of the right activities. Score your success. Then share it with others.