The Pursuit of Greatness Is a Journey that Never Ends

Audio Transcript

The question, as I understand it, is at the very beginning of trying to take your company to another level, how do you assess where it is on a good-to-great continuum; and how do you do that both honestly and in such a way that has the best positive effect, as opposed to maybe a debilitating effect? Is that the essence of the question?

Male Speaker:  Yes.

Okay. Very good. Well, first, let me start with a fun little story that I think speaks to the psychology of those who build exceptional anything, any kind of enterprise or institution, or maybe write books or do whatever. A number of years ago, Sam Walton was sitting at a diner in Bentonville, Arkansas, munching on a burger. And he points over to this other fellow who comes in and he says, “That’s Joe. I really admire Joe. Joe used to be a truck driver, and then Joe went into business for himself and he now raises chickens. Joe’s really successful. I’d like to learn from Joe.” At the time, Sam Walton had a personal net worth of $8 billion. 

I think the story says something very interesting about the psychology of those whom we’ve studied who build the momentum and the flywheel. They never ever think of themselves as anything approximating “there.” That sense of being productively neurotic translates into a sense of “We’re not great yet.” No matter how far they’ve gone, no matter how much they’ve achieved, no matter how exceptional the company becomes, there’s this chronic sense of “Gosh, there’s just so much that we’re not doing as well as we actually could.” I think that’s a very important piece of it. Even though we wrote Good to Great, good to great is a journey that never ends. Those who actually think that they’re great probably aren’t there. The moment that you start to think that you’re great is the moment that you’re starting to go from great to good. 

So, I would come at it from the standpoint of, when in doubt, assume the worst about yourself and begin from there. No matter how far these companies went, that’s the way they always were.  

I had a very interesting conversation with a key executive of Walmart who said to me, “We’re the world’s largest corporation with the world’s largest inferiority complex.”

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