Mar 072012

I recently reviewed the book Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen. While written about making businesses great, I believe they have perhaps inadvertently written one of the best books on improving oneself. I am taking the next few posts to lay the case of how we can ourselves be Great By Choice.

The companies studied in Great by Choice had a not-so-secret recipe for successful operational practice. What is an operational practice? It is guidelines or even a checklist that will provide repeatable and consistent results. When Howard Putnam was putting Southwest Airlines together in 1979, he developed 10 rules for their operational excellence. Some of those rules included remaining a short haul carrier with no segment over two hours, only flying 737s, staying out of food service, and staying passenger focused – no freight or mail. These principles have served the company well and over the last quarter century, Southwest has changed only 20% of the original ten. Progressive Insurance had a list of nine, changing only two in over 30 years (and those two have not been changed in the last twenty years).

What’s the recipe for great operational practice? SMaC: Simple, Methodical, and Consistent. What does a SMaC recipe look like for those of us who aren’t flying jets, insuring cars or developing medical devices? John Wooden, perhaps the greatest basketball coach of all time, started the first practice of every season of the UCLA team the same way. “We will begin by learning how to tie our shoes.” By teaching his star athletes the simple, methodical and consistent way to put on their socks and shoes, a remarkable number of injuries were avoided every year, allowing the team to be more consistent in what they wanted to do, win games. Another example of a personal SMaC recipe are the Twelve Personal Commandments as explained in Gretchen Rubin’s popular blog The Happiness Project.

This is an area I have been working on this year. In an attempt to accomplish more consistent work, I have decided one of my “operational practices” to be “Get up at 5:00 and accomplish the most important tasks first.” The results have been incredible so far. The progress I have made in scripture study and writing is something I never really thought I could achieve. Another practice I have adopted is to plan in advance the books I will read this year. Having a list has kept me motivated and consistent in my reading. Today I finished my eleventh book of the year.

Developing the list of personal SMaC recipe takes time. These are rules that should be able to stand up for twenty years without change. Care must be taken to not create something that changes with the season or situation. These are governing principles that can guide in bad times as well as good. The success I have enjoyed so far with my first two candidates is making me very excited to try others. Developing a set of personal operational practices is definitely worth the effort. Take some time to lay out a personal SMaC recipe. I am going to post mine above my desk both at home and at work to help remind me until they become engrained into my life. I just have to remember to keep it Simple, Methodical and Consistent. SMaC me!

Great By Choice Personal Improvement Series

Great By Choice: Personal Success In Reach
Great By Choice: The 20 Mile March
Great By Choice: Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs
Great By Choice: Leading Above the Death Line
Great By Choice: SMaC

Great By Choice: Return On Luck