There are two classes of men in the business world. They are as wide apart as poles. The one is the ROBOT. The other is the IMPROVER.

Most Robots are rank & file people, but some executives, too, are Robots. So are a few Chairmen & Managing Directors.

The constant making of improvements – that may be taken as the simplest definition of Efficiency. This is the one habit which has none of the dangers of most other habits. It is the habit of keeping out of the rut. It means that the Thinkers at the top of the business never stop thinking. They accept nothing as final & perfect.

The welfare of the human race depends upon the strength & stamina of the men who keep on making improvements.

Unfinished Business

There are tens of thousands of businesses that lack the elementary equipment of an organisation.They may, for instance, have no stores system or costs systems, or no control of stocks or of production, or no real Sales Department. It may for instance have no staff training nor research, nor Welfare department, nor laboratory. It is like a human body that has defective or missing organs. It is continuously in a state of bad health.

Suppose it was left to a man to buy the necessary organs for his own body, no doubt many penny-minded men would buy only one  lung & five feet of bowels and no kidneys. These men would be no more foolish than the Managing Director who does not install the necessary organs in his company. Every large company needs certain equipment & certain skills. It needs machines & specialists. And it is not a complete organisation until it has them.

A piano-a shop-a factory-a farm! All of these are alike. What they produce depends, not on them, but on the skills & specialised knowledge of the man who operates them. A piano can make a hideous noise when a small boy hammers on its keys. But when the fingers of a Master Pianist operates the keys, it can make angels’ music.

A small employer, with not more than a dozen workers, should not be of as much concern in making improvements in his business as in making improvements in HIMSELF. He has a one-man business. And the growth of the business depends on the growth of the man.

In a word, a big company can afford to have many specialists, while a small trader cannot afford to have even one. And the point is – the average small trader does not try to get the specialised knowledge that he needs.

A small trader must be a buyer. Does he then buy a book on buying? No, he does not. He must be a window-dresser. Does he, then, study the art of business display? No, he does not. He must know the art of salesmanship. Does he then learn this art from books, magazines & Courses of Study? No, he does not. The average small businessman knows about a third of what he ought to know. No other mistake is as costly as this.

In ninety percent of business firms & elsewhere, there is an urgent need for improvements in the methods of Staff Training. Many neglect it altogether. To teach employees what they need to know- that is no small matter.

One of the hardest jobs of any Managing Director is the improvement of his PEOPLE- his executives & employees. He must be a Man-trainer. He must create an educational movement in his organisation that reaches down to the office boy. He must set hard jobs for his executives & not try to do the thinking for them. He has so many hundreds of brains in his organisation, & he must try to keep these brains active.

Another hard job for the Managing director of a big firm is this-preventing his Heads of departments  from becoming departmental. He should keep them loyal to the firm as a whole. A Departmental head is not on his own. He is an organisation man. He must be co-operative. There must be team play. A Departmental head may not come in contact with customers or shareholders. But he must always keep them in mind.

In every large firm, clerical work grows like mushrooms unless it is watched & kept down by someone who thinks of net profits. The daily procedure becomes more & more complex. One clerk leads to another.The routine work piles up, higher & higher. And the executives get caught fast in it.

A Formula for Improvement:

The cause of a success is the THOUGHT spent on improvements. Because thinking is hard work, nobody wants to do it. The hardest job is to observe, gather data & then think what ought to be done. To be a creative thinker-there is no other job as hard as that.

The fact is that a thought must usually be hammered out just as a statue is hammered out. Brain-work requires persistent effort & concentration. Thoughts do not fly into our minds. Silly thoughts may, but useful ones seldom do.

When a man must make an important decision, or solve a hard business problem, he must first collect the facts that he needs to know. Then, in some quiet place, where he will be free from interruptions, he must sort out his facts, give every fact its fair value & make up his mind what to do. As soon as a man stops living by memory alone & begins to put his brain to work, he begins to carry out his plans & purposes.

Any purposeful man, if he sits down for a quiet two hours of creative thinking, can make a list of twenty improvements if he will concentrate his mind upon that vital subject-REPLACEMENT.

  1. Buildings: Every building must be kept up. Every year there will be repairs.
  2. Machinery: We use most machines too long. Obsolete machinery is unprofitable. To allow 10% for depreciation is not enough. Some progressive firms allow 30%. In our office we use a PC for 4 years.Then we replace it with a new one.
  3. Prices: The matter of net profit comes in here. If the mark-up is too low, or if his sales are too small, he cannot survive .
  4. Capital: One must get a decent return on this.
  5. Health: The secret of health is to take in as much energy as we give out. First comes work, then comes recuperation. Only 3% of us die of old age. The body needs rest, nourishment & repairs.
  6. Youth: A man can be bald & boy-hearted.
  7. Knowledge: Almost all knowledge grows stale. Keep it up-to-date. All our lives we must keep on learning.
  8. Happiness: Not many men over 40 are happy. Most belong to the”I-Wish-I-Had-Club.” They have lost the joy of life & doing nothing to replace it.
  9. Character: A man who has done wrong can study the art of self-mastery. He can regain his self-respect.

Socratic Method: One of the best methods of Staff Training is to ask questions. A question is a little prod to the brain. It leads, very often, to an improvement. This is what is called the “Socratic Method” of teaching-teaching by asking questions. Any improver will find this method very useful.

The most helpful word in the vocabulary of improvement is “Suppose”. Whenever a man starts a sentence with the word “suppose”, he is obliged to do more or less creative thinking.

Another technique- What simple technique will make this still better? There is literally no end to the little improvements that can be made in ordinary things. The “little plusses” or extras make all the difference between success & failure. They compel favourable attention.

If a man can succeed in putting the “plus spirit” into his business, it will grow more rapidly. The “plus spirit” is magically different from the “business as usual” spirit. It will prevent any firm from slipping into a rut. There will be no Robotism.

Sometimes, when we make a change, we are sure it will be an improvement. But at other times we are not quite sure. We must then regard the change as an experiment. We can give it a month’s trial. Every new idea is not necessarily a useful idea. But one must give it a tryout.

The history of invention shows that basic improvements come from outside a trade or industry, & the small improvements come from within. The OUTSIDER has always been the main improver.

Here are 9 inventions from the OUTSIDE that have most helped the Railways: telegraph, telephone, sleeping-car, automatic block signal system, air brake, vestibule buffer, refrigerator-car, electric engine & automatic car-coupler. If it were not for the invention of outsiders, the railways simply could not operate at all.

The truth is that in all trades & industries, the most important improvements, are usually suggested by outsiders.

Improvements in manufacturing:

One can learn (or wonder) about Punctuality from the railways & the daily papers.

Remember- the two cheapest things in the business world are money & machinery.