“Good is the enemy of great.” So says author Jim Collins in his best-selling book Good to Great. In other words, being good can be bad, if it leads to complacency and indifference.
If you stopped a typical man or woman on the street and asked who develops the standards they take for granted every day, you’d get a variety of answers, but almost none would say, “Why I do, of course.” But companies can’t operate that way. Great companies don’t operate that way.
Good companies use the best standards. Great companies develop them.
Here’s what great companies know. They know what standardization does for their products, for their processes, what it does for them in the marketplace, and what it does for their technical experts. Where else can technical experts get a better sense of the marketplace than in a forum of their peers? Where is there a better classroom, a better laboratory, a better network of the best minds in the industry? Technical experts who actively develop standards with other experts are far more valuable to a corporation than those who work in isolation. Great companies invest in their experts, support their involvement in standardization, and listen to them when they come home.
There is no way to operate competitively without using the best standards, whether a company’s goal is to capture the market in their hometown or in 17 countries around the world. And there is no way to be a leader in the industry without being involved in the direction in which the product is going. Standardization is the act of investing in the company’s confidence in what it is doing. It is the translation of that confidence into public acceptance. It is the secret weapon of great companies.
Standardization is the birthplace of the best ideas in the world. It’s where brilliance and stimulation and debate make good experts great ones. It’s where corporations win the battle for the market before the product gets there. But it isn’t free. It takes commitment. It takes foresight and the investment of time and resources. What vital company function doesn’t?
Good companies can take advantage of the standards work that great companies do for them. But they won’t get there first; they won’t explore the boundaries of their fields, or see the technical trends coming. They won’t put their company’s imprint on what will become the statement that describes the product and its performance. What a loss.
For some companies, being good is enough. For others, it’s just the beginning.
James A. Thomas
President, ASTM International
Copyright 2007, ASTM International