Excellence Revisited

Letter From the Boardroom

A flyer plugging yet another "excellence book" hit my "in box" recently— another reminder of the infatuation of American business with the "pursuit of excellence." We passionately love success, just hate second place, and truly disdain failure.

The drive to excel provides rewards both psychic and material—no question. But I believe it also harbors a germinal ideal that—with fuller development—might help toughen our national ethos and flagging moral fiber.

ABC Nightline host Ted Koppel said it well in a commencement address at Duke University: "We have spent 5,000 years as a race of rational human beings, trying to drag ourselves out of the primeval slime by searching for truth and moral absolutes. In its purest form, truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder. It is a howling reproach. What Moses brought down from Mount Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions."

A higher personal and professional ethic would be well-served by a richer interior culture of what constitutes success. We're quick to put quantitative yardsticks to this powerful energizer of business. But let's tread carefully; "quantitative" success generally delivers ephemeral goods, leaving us still struggling mightily in search of fulfillment. Realistically, there's always more to be had. A friend of mine, privy to prevailing attitudes in the sports world, calls...

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