Wholehearted Leadership Opinion: Why the relentless pursuit of excellence matters

Like Apple's Steve Jobs and Tesla's Elon Musk, great leaders must relentlessly pursue excellence

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Details matter: the Apple Cube on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan

Like Apple’s Steve Jobs and Tesla’s Elon Musk, great leaders must have fanatical attention to detail and aim to achieve the impossible

What do Apple Inc. and Tesla Inc. have in common?
George Blankenship, of course. Blankenship worked with both globally iconic brands as a senior executive.

I recently had the pleasure of listening to him speak at our global leadership conference in San Diego. Blankenship had the unique career opportunity to work directly with Tesla co-founder Elon Musk and the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

He told this story of Jobs at the opening of Apple’s Palo Alto, California, store, where both men were reviewing the preparations for the grand opening. Like all Apple stores, the location had been meticulously designed to create the precise impact wanted by Jobs, who took a keen interest in every detail of its design and development.

One of the lavish displays in the store was a massive Styrofoam replica of a MacBook Pro laptop. Jobs animatedly invited Blankenship to come over to see something. He ushered him to the laptop and instructed him to have a look at its underside. There Blankenship found in tiny letters the same inscription found under every MacBook: “Designed by Apple in California.”

Blankenship was flabbergasted by the messaging, in a location that no one would ever see. He felt the same way about the excitement that Jobs demonstrated in pointing it out. Expressing his surprise, Blankenship noted that no one would ever know the messaging was there. To which Jobs responded: “But we will know it’s there, and we will know we did it with excellence.”
Blankenship told another story of a design meeting for the now famous Apple Cube on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The cube consists entirely of huge glass panels, 18 on each side. There was only one company in the world that could do this kind of construction—a business in Germany.

A representative of the German company was in the meeting. He showed Jobs the metal brackets that would be necessary to hold the glass panels together. Jobs said they were too big; he wanted them smaller.

The company rep replied they needed to be that large to support the weight of the enormous glass panels. It was a matter of physics.

“They need to be smaller,” Jobs replied.

“We can’t do that; they need to be that large,” the rep said again.

“They need to be smaller.”

“We can’t do that.”

The exchange went on for a while. Finally Jobs said he believed the rep: “You’re right; you can’t do it. I’ll have to find someone who can!” With that statement, he sent a message to everyone in the room—only the best in the world belong here.

The German company succeeded in making a smaller bracket.

The relentless pursuit of details and excellence was a hallmark of Apple, and Steve Jobs personally instilled it. Relentless attention to detail is the prerequisite for the relentless pursuit of excellence.

Tesla’s Elon Musk shows the same passion. Everything his company has achieved was considered impossible before they did it. Tesla is pursuing the impossible with an eye to detail and excellence. Now considered a more valuable brand than General Motors Co., it’s the first successful new car company since the 1950s.

Here is Tesla’s philosophy for success:
Simplify—focus only on what’s important.
Courage—don’t listen to outsiders.
Alignment—demonstrate conviction.
Celebrate—success and failure.
First Step—take it.

So, what are you relentlessly pursuing? Do you relentlessly pursue detail, excellence and the impossible?

Does that sound fanatical? It does, but it’s the fanatics who change the course of history and accomplish the impossible.
Vince Lombardi once said, “We will be relentless in our pursuit of perfection. We won’t ever be perfect, but in the process we will achieve greatness.”

Relentless attention to detail. The relentless pursuit of excellence and the impossible. It is fanatical attention to detail that leads to excellence and the accomplishment of things considered impossible.

If you want greatness and to somehow achieve the impossible, as a leader, you must lead the charge to relentlessly pay attention to details and pursue excellence.

What are you relentlessly pursuing?

David MacLean empowers CEOs, entrepreneurs and executives to dare greatly in his role as B.C. best practice chair for The Executive Committee Canada (TEC). David also writes and speaks on Wholehearted Leadership: inspiring, encouraging and equipping leaders to harness their most valuable asset—their HEART. You can reach him at dmaclean@tec-canada.com.