It seems increasingly difficult to be successful in the manufacturing world today. But much of that may depend on how you define and measure success. Simple answers to that question could include one word answers like “profitable” or “growth.” Others might expand on those answers using phrases like “responsible growth” or “sustainable profitability.” One of my customers has adopted a simple slogan that I really like: “Do good, and do well.” It’s an apt slogan for a high tech company operating in the environmental marketplace – every time they sell a system, they make the world a better place. When I first heard it, I wondered if my company, and all manufacturing companies, could adopt a slogan like that.
Maybe it’s my age and stage in life (now comfortably in mid-life) that has caused me to reflect on things like this, and what it means to be successful. My current favorite definition was a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that I saw framed and mounted on the wall of a company I visited on a recent business trip to El Paso. It defined success this way:
To laugh often and much.
To win the respect of intelligent people,
And the affection of children.
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
And endure the betrayal of false friends.
To appreciate beauty, And to find the best in others.
To leave the world a bit better,
Whether by a healthy child, A garden patch,
Or a redeemed social condition.
To know even one life has breathed easier
Because you have lived,
This is what it means to have succeeded.
The complete quote reminds me that life is far more than work or business, and that personal success is not measured by numbers. But a closer examination reveals many secrets to business success as well. Winning the respect of intelligent people and earning the appreciation of honest critics means you have always dealt with integrity and are respected for it. Enduring the betrayal of false friends speaks to your character, commitment and fortitude. Finding the best in others and laughing often and much indicates you are a person people would like to work with and for whom they are willing to work hard. Leaving the world a better place indicates you willingly assume responsibility for the big picture and you have put actions to your beliefs to make it happen. But the phrase that hit me between the eyes is the last phrase, “to know that one life has breathed easier because you have lived.”
The same day I read that quote, I crossed the bridge from Juarez Mexico to El Paso. It’s an interesting hour-and-a-half experience, crawling along one car length at a time, passing numerous pan-handlers, beggars and peddlers. Some of them are society’s forgotten; men in wheelchairs (or on skateboards) missing limbs or obviously crippled; women with their small children in tow walking precariously between the cars; others clearly weathered by years of living without a decent home. Many seem to have chosen to be there; others, it looks like, have no other choice.
Over the years, I have crossed that bridge many times and I know I have become somewhat calloused to the sights and situations I see there. One reason for that may be that they are always there, and no one on the bridge seems to be worse off from one trip to the next. For many of them, it looks to be a vocation-like means to a living. From time to time, however, I get ambushed by a situation for which I have not yet developed a conscience-saving defense. Such was the case last trip when I saw the desperate face of a woman that I estimate to be around 30 years old – and fully nine months pregnant. Her pleas were all in Spanish, and although I understand a bit of the language, I could only understand one word of what she said because of her desperate sobbing – the word “amigo.” I quickly checked my pockets for small bills, but had none. I then checked my wallet, hoping to find something small, but found only a couple of twenties. The car was about to move up a length in the line, so I asked my colleagues in the car if they had any money. The guy driving found some change in the ashtray, dumped the contents in my hand and I gave it to the woman just before we pulled ahead. The whole event took less than 30 seconds, but it stuck with me for days. A few days later, when my trip was over, I went through my wallet to pull out all my receipts and noticed I still had one of the two twenties. Turned out, I had more money in my wallet that day than I needed, and wouldn’t have missed a twenty if I had given awayâ€¦
Our businesses and our jobs give us all sorts of opportunities to be successful everyday. We can be the team leader that people like to work hard for, or the team player that the leader is glad to have on the team. We can be the supplier that comes through in the crunch, or the customer that awards a big contract to a reliable and supportive supplier even though they were not the lowest bidder. We can be the coworker that picks up the slack for a burdened colleague. Every day, because of the prosperity that comes from our careers, jobs or businesses, it is so easy for us to make even just one life a little bit easier.
We can choose to believe that we have earned all that we enjoy, and have succeeded only because we have worked for it. But remember that success can be measured many different ways.
Best wishes for your success in 2008, and remember: “Do good, and do well.”