Continuous Improvement

Last week’s blog was titled, “The Power of Self-Control,” which was inspired by my reading the book Discipline is Destiny by Ryan Holiday. There is another powerful teaching in the book that I would like to explore in this blog.

Over twenty years ago I was in the insurance brokerage business. The last ten years I served as CEO. I remember how my approach to leading the company was to seek continuous improvement. If any company can continuously improve in every area of their business, the financial results will take care of themselves.

Holiday completely subscribes to this approach particularly when it comes to our individual lives. He describes it as “Get Better Every Day.” He quotes Socrates who said, “we cannot remain as we are.” Are we growing and improving our lives each day or are we slowly slipping and regressing? We cannot remain the same.

Tom Brady is considered to be the greatest quarterback to ever play football. But what I have learned is that Brady is not obsessed with winning. He is obsessed with the accuracy of his passing, and with getting a little bit faster at releasing the football. He is not willing to remain the same, though it would have been easy to rest on his laurels. The process of getting better is what has driven him over the years and that is how he has been able to defy aging and all expectations.

The Japanese call this “kaizen” which means continual improvement. There is always something to work on, to make a little progress on, with always an opportunity to grow. It starts by finding something to focus on that you can get better at each day. When a person does this he experiences compounding returns that can be harnessed to produce exceptional results in a person’s life.

For me, at this point in my life, my focus is on learning and becoming a better writer. As Charlie Munger said in his commencement address to the class of 2007 graduating from USC Law School:

“It is crucial to be hooked on lifetime learning.”

He then references Berkshire Hathaway which he believes is the “best regarded company in the world, with the best investment record in the history of civilization.” And, of course the anchor and leader of this company is Warren Buffet. He says that Buffet spends half of his waking time reading and a big chunk of the rest of his time talking to knowledgeable people all over the world. He says Warren Buffet is “a continuous learning machine.”

Munger believes this requirement applies to all walks of life. He says:

“I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent. But they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were that morning. And boy, does that habit help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.”

What I have noticed is that when a person becomes hooked on lifetime learning it is noticed by others because it’s rare. Therefore ask yourself, “Will I remain as I am or become what I am capable of?” But please remember, once you stop getting better, there is only one direction to go.

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.


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