"Man's main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is." Erich Fromm, American philosopher 1900 1980
Noble sentiment indeed, yet what is a person's potential? It seems to me that potential is the extreme edge of possibility; the point of attainment that remains perpetually just out of reach. Striving to fulfil potential is like trying to grasp the end of the rainbow. Every effort, whilst improving capability, simply increases the scope of what may be. Does that mean that we should never aspire to fulfil our potential? Hardly! Progress is the law of life and a fulfilled life is one of continuous achievement, in which every activity opens the door to something new and leads to new possibilities. Since opportunity almost invariably results from achievement, this means that every opportunity taken is effectively a step towards enhancing potential!
Oprah Winfrey put it as well as anybody when she said: "My philosophy is that you are! not only responsible for your life, but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment."
This is considerably more reasonable and practical. It recognises that potential and perfection are practically synonymous and, since we all know how hard it is to achieve perfection, offers a subtle shift of expectation that is considerably less demanding by acknowledging the fine line between doing one's best (absolute!) and doing one's best "at this moment." If we take an athlete as an example, one's best would entail a personal record - a personal best - every time they compete, while the alternative recognises that there are other factors that come into play and affect the ultimate outcome.
This is an important concept when it comes to measuring personal performance and productivity, because so much is determined by expectation.
I once heard that a steam engine (an external combustion engine) operates at only 10% of its potential capacity and that a steam train could, theoretically, travel in excess of 1000 miles per hour if it had the capability to stay on the tracks at that speed. It would also blow up if the engine reached such optimum performance! So while there is such a phenomenal potential, both actual performance and expectation are considerably lower.
That is probably why steam engines are no longer as widespread as they once were and have been replaced by other forms of engines. So how much nearer perfection are we? Well, my sources of information tell me that the internal combustion engine that powers most petrol driven cars has a coefficient of efficiency of around 0.15 and even for diesel engines it only improves to around 0.20. So while I find the performance of my turbo diesel quite amazing compared to what I was previously accustomed to, it appears that there is definitely scope for considerable improvement!
Before anyone thinks that this is an attack on mechanical engineering or the automotive industry, I hasten to point out that the human body apparently only operates at something in the region of 0.30 or 30% efficiency. If Mother Nature does such a poor job, maybe this isn't so bad and it is unreasonable to expect mankind to do better. So what's my point? Simply that it is to physical science's credit that they even have an idea of how inefficient things are. Management science lacks any kind of comparative yardstick. After all an organisation is, by definition, a collection of people assembled to work together to achieve an agreed objective. While this may include overseeing the use of non-human resources, the ultimate concept is no different from that of a machine or organism, where the constituent components all work together to a specified end. Yet we never really pause to measure how effective this body really is.
Think about it for a moment. What is the collective intellectual capacity in any organisation and how much of that capacity do we use? ! "For 25 years you've paid for my hands when you could have had my brain as well - for nothing." This statement by an employee quoted by Jack Welch in his biography encapsulates the point precisely. It points to the unconscious heritage of past times when workers were collectively referred to as "hands" and shows how little we have actually travelled in recognising the human being behind the worker. The following diagram illustrates the wastage graphically, with the centre circle depicting the energy utilised and the outer circle the unproductive resource.
It is perhaps one of the great ironies of the industrial age that countless managers charged with maximising productivity spent their entire working lives seeking to coax additional profits out of businesses and their operations without ever recognising this. Even today, when it is even more imperative to ensure that we do not misuse, and therefore by definition abuse, our human resources, this concept remains barely recognised.
Wastage on this scale makes it inevitable that an organi-sation will acquire more resources than it actually needs to achieve its ends, compounding the wastage and creating a double whammy for the organisation.
Lean organisations are an attempt to address this waste. Yet all too often they are driven by the need to improve efficiency and cut costs and are driven from the top down, completely oblivious of the fundamental issues that are key to success.
This book is an attempt to close that gap and improve organisational effectiveness by acknowledging that it is the people who determine the effectiveness of an organisation and its ultimate success or failure. Thus it looks at organisational energy and what powers it, and identifies ways in which this can be boosted to make the human resources the organisational assets that they truly are, or should be, and thereby underpinning their treatment and valuation.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.