In the pursuit of perfection

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 02-08-11

“Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”

These words by Vince Lombardi encompass a great deal of the lean mindset. Mark Graban at recently wrote about this quote, and so I was reminded of an article I wrote almost 10 years ago. The article was just a two-page spread for a manufacturing magazine, but this quote was essentially the title and the them. Of course, with the return of the Lombardi Trophy to Green Bay after the Packers Super Bowl win (as a Steelers fan, I’m certainly not excited about this), the quote perhaps even more recognition.


Here is the article in its entirety:

What would happen if your company won a major award for success or was publicly praised for its way of doing business? Would everyone celebrate, give speeches and explore the newfound power of their resumes in the market? Or would your fellow employees explore what they might learn from the experience to better perform tomorrow?

Most companies, including myself, would tend to focus on celebrating the success. Not so for companies whose culture is centered on lean principles. Toyota, an often used but deserving case study, responded to a Harvard Business Review about their success with the comment “it has also helped us focus our reflection on how we can get closer to True North.”

The words True North are very meaningful. Perfection is not a goal that we are trying to conquer; it is a compass that tells us in what direction to advance. That daily pursuit towards perfection is vital to any successful lean transformation effort.

A vision for True North and a clear view of current reality – often missed but dramatically rewarding element of adopting lean principles – creates a tension in the organization that in turn feeds creativity. Typically, we relieve that tension in one of two ways. Option one is we lower the vision: “we don’t have to be that good – no one else is.” Option two is to artificially raise our perception of current reality: “you know, we really are pretty good.” Of course, neither of these helps us move forward as well as a clear view of current reality and a vision of nothing less than the ideal state.

In the pursuit of perfection, driven by lean principles, we won’t just edge out some competitors and see marginal improvement – we will achieve our full potential and realize unbounded success.