I watch the show Blue Bloods, with Tom Selleck as the police commissioner of New York City. He is portrayed as a very deep and wise thinker who does a lot of hansei, or reflection. During a recent episode, he and several members of his family all seemed to know a particular Teddy Roosevelt quote, and it was one I didn’t know but as I heard them say the words I decided it would be one that I would look up and keep for future reference. The particular quote was:
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
I suppose many people could infer many different things from this quote. One reflection I took away from it was to push for excellence, push for greatness, push for improvement. Many times during a lean transformation people discuss things in terms of “sounds nice, but we’ve never done it that way” or “wow, that would really help a lot, but when would we find the time?” or, “ok, let’s move forward but in small steps so we aren’t too disruptive.” The kicker is, many of the “visions” people shy away from implementing or transforming into are countermeasures to the very reasons they hesitate: It is a new way, but it would be better; this would help free up time for improvement activities, the time you say you don’t have; the move would be disruptive but would prevent disruption in the future.
“The gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat” To me that is just an analogy for maintaining the status quo, for continuing along the same path you are already on, too hesitant to get your shoes dirty, step off the sidewalk, and walk through the field to try out the welcoming trail you see. The bottom line is, if you see an improved future state, you should be moving towards it with purpose and vigor rather than hoping to eventually get there. Sometimes you need to cut a new path through the weeds in order to reach that other trail across the field.
As I searched for the Roosevelt quote, I ended up looking through several other quotes from various sources. I came across one I liked as well, one that I thought connected well with themes from a great book I am reading from and teaching from this year, “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership” by Jeff Liker. The quote was:
“As kids, we’re not taught how to deal with success; we’re taught how to deal with failure. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. If at first you succeed… then what?”
The theme I thought it connected well with was around reflection and self-development. Whether you have just reached the end of a very successful project that made a lot of money and improved the quality of your product or service, or whether you just had a major quality issue arise that threatens your market share and reputation, you would approach each of these situations in the same way: deep reflection to understand how you could improve.
In so many cases we do not study and learn from our successes, we only do an autopsy when there is a failure. Studying and learning from successes can be just as, if not more, powerful and valuable. When we succeed we must ask why we were successful. What really worked well? What, even though we succeeded, could still be improved the next time we do this? We must take these learnings and lock them in for the future, be disciplined to them, adopt them as the new best-known way to do things, share them with others… and continue to improve upon them. Do what makes you successful, do it often, and then do it better.
So I loved that quote, and then I was surprised at first when I looked down at the author. Who other than the venerable Charlie Sheen. Wisdom coming from a place I might least expect it, as least in recent months. Thanks Charlie!