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Excellence is Elusive – What is Excellence and how is it achieved?

Posted On February 8, 2017

What is Excellence and how is it achieved? This is a question that I struggled with for a long time, and for good reason. Flat World strives for excellence in everything we do. Most people can cite examples of it, many others know it when the see it or experience it, but where does it come from and how did it get there? That’s the answer that I struggled with for several years. I think we’d all agree that Tom Brady provided a shining example of Excellence in Super Bowl LI on Sunday.

Bill and Ted would tell you that the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a Most Excellent Automobile, and no one would deny that Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a timeless example of Excellence in art. But….how did these three examples of excellence come to be?

In the business of transportation, and specifically when you are a sales professional in that business, you take tours of many warehouses and manufacturing sites. This is one of my favorite things to do in business, because you get to see behind the curtain of many very interesting companies, and many times you get a glimpse of what makes them tick. It was on one such tour where I found out where this Elusive Excellence begins. Calexico California is a US border town just across from Mexicali Mexico, and there are many Maquiladora (twin plant) operations there.

I was touring one of those facilities in Calexico when I noticed a forklift being driven down the dock by one of the employees, and suddenly that forklift stopped right in the middle of the dock area. The employee jumped off the forklift, walked over to a scrap of paper, put it in his pocket, then climbed up on the forklift and drove away. I finished the tour of my customer’s facility, said my goodbyes and headed to the airport. During the trip back from Calexico, my business partner and I were discussing what we took away from our tour and both seemed to have noticed many of the same things; the customer’s facility was immaculately clean, incredibly organized, and the employees were all very detail oriented.

That’s when we realized that we had witnessed where Excellence comes from! The forklift driver revealed it to me in his act of picking up a scrap of paper. Excellence is found in the Details. I was looking at the big picture, but was not “seeing the trees for the forest”.

Tom Brady’s performance in the Super Bowl will go down as the greatest comeback in NFL history, but he and his team accomplished that feat one play at a time. Down 28-3 in the 3rd Quarter, the Patriots seemed to be completely out of the game and it was just a matter of a few more minutes before the Atlanta Falcons would win their first Super Bowl Championship, but that isn’t the way Brady saw it. He told his teammates that if each one of them would give their best effort on each individual play, they could win the game, and that’s what they did. The outcome they wanted, was a collection of each man doing his best work on each and every play. Intricate, intimate and impeccable, the Mercedes S-Class is a celebration of time-honored hand-craftsmanship. Virtually every surface is richly, precisely tailored, and swathed in sweeping spans of fine wood.

Nearly 300 LEDs allows the cabin to be aglow in seven variable hues. These fine details are what makes a Mercedes S-Class automobile a great car, but it is the individual craftsmen and their attention to every detail that makes the experience of driving an S-Class truly excellent. The S-Class experience is so important to these fine craftsmen that they put their name on each vehicle they build. Michelangelo painted 12 figures—seven prophets and five sibyls (female prophets of myth)—around the border of the ceiling, and filled the central space with scenes from Genesis.

The most famous Sistine Chapel ceiling painting is the emotion-infused The Creation of Adam, in which God and Adam outstretch their hands to one another. When viewing the famous ceiling from below, one is amazed at the sheer scope of the project which took Michelangelo years to complete, not to mention the elegant beauty of the masterpiece. What you can’t see from the floor, but can from close view, is the staggering number of brush strokes that make up these wonderful paintings. Michelangelo painted most of this collections of paintings while lying on his back a couple of feet below his “canvas”.

The true genius of this work is found in the individual brush strokes that this man made many years ago while suspended a couple of feet below the ceiling of an ancient chapel. Wow! Talk about Excellence.

Most of us will never have the opportunity to play in a Super Bowl; there are only a few people in the world who will ever build a Mercedes S-Class Sedan, and there may never again be an artist that rivals the genius of Michelangelo, but each one of us can reach down and pick up a scrap of paper.