This week, I got into a rather spirited argument with another person who commented on something I wrote online at the Harvard Business Review. We were both giving our opinions on an article about stock analysts. My opinion was this, “The real issue I have with analysts is their inability to add value to the equation.” His response still puzzles me, “it’s not their job to add value.” We agreed to disagree but the more I think about his response, the more it bothers me. I cannot imagine even a single moment in my life when I would have uttered such a line. I was raised by a father who believed that all of life is about adding value to every single act. Have we really come to a point in history where some people actually believe it’s not their job to add value? If that is true, it might be the most troubling statement I have ever heard.
My earliest memories of working with my Dad are filled with times when I questioned him about why he was so meticulous in his work. His response was this basic value, “If you can do it better, then you should.” He was never satisfied with good enough and he believed his customers would perceive the added value of his expertise. He was right, of course, and people came from far and wide to buy his work. This must have had a dramatic effect on my youthful brain because I took it to heart and when it was my turn to do it better, I was highly motivated.
By the early 80’s, I was experimenting with process photography in ways that were radically different. I spent one whole year of my life working out the process for reproducing photographic films so precisely that they could then be printed as mirror images on opposite sides of clear plexiglass and be backlit for display purposes. Hallmark was the ultimate customer but my client was the printer. Without my equipment and our long hours of experimentation, none of this would have been possible. After we proved the process could be duplicated on a regular basis, Hallmark took the concept to Asia for production. It bothered me at first, that my efforts would never be recognized, but the experiment led me to other clients and much more work.
I could have said it’s not my job to figure this out for Hallmark, so they can just do it themselves, but that was never the point. I wanted to do it just to see if I could. Adding value is the most reciprocal thing anyone can do in their life. I created something that was great enough for Hallmark and to this day I am eternally grateful for that opportunity. They gave me the chance to achieve more than I knew I could and that knowledge fueled even greater discoveries later on. Those were the best years of my entire career because I learned to go beyond good enough. I think that’s something all the great inventors in history share at the most elemental level, they just know they can do it better and therefore they have to try.
Men like Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, Jonas Salk and Steve Jobs altered the course of history through their unquenchable faith in their mission. Where would we be today if they had ever said, “It’s not my job.” Frankly, in my opinion, it’s everyone’s job to add value to everything we do. Good enough really isn’t and we’re not going to have an even better quality of life in the future unless we all try harder to make a difference. That’s one of the biggest reasons I keep writing this blog. I want to do it better and I am determined to keep trying till I get it right. Just read that title again, “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” I believe the course of history can still be altered in amazing new ways by any and all of us. We just need to inspire each other to greatness. I may never become the next Edison but it won’t be because I never even tried.
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