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Still In Search of Excellence

In Search of Excellence was the title of a book by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr., published in 1982. In the book, the authors tried to define why a set of companies outperformed their competition. Some of the companies ranked as excellent in that book are still around today – some are not.

Jump forward 37 years – and we’re still in search of excellence, be it Business Excellence, Operational Excellence, or Service Excellence.

So, why does Excellence keep escaping us?


Learning from Olympic swimmers

A good answer can be found in another publication from the eighties; the classic research paper by Daniel F. Chambliss: The Mundanity of Excellence, about the making of Olympic swimmers.

The Mundanity of Excellence states that in order to achieve Excellence, the following seem to be true:

  1. Quality > Quantity. Doing more of the same does not lead to excellence. Changing and perfecting what is being done is more important.
  2. Talent is a useless concept. Excellence does not seem to be the by-product of an innate feature of individuals.
  3. Excellence is a compound effect. The repetition and perfection of ordinary and simple actions will compound over time and lead to extraordinary performance.


The Mundanity of Excellence in Business?

Applying these three findings to find Excellence in business means:

  1. Quality > Quantity. Invest in improving your operating models. This has a greater impact on performance than running around faster and setting out fires more quickly.
  2. Talent is a useless concept. Sounds unsettling? It means that real talent is being created through good management, training, and coaching – it is not something that just happens naturally.
  3. Excellence is a compound effect. This is the most important and difficult of Chambliss’ findings to implement in business. In our age of multitasking and fast change, distraction and surviving on routines is common. Practicing good time management and realizing that focus equals value will help you find Excellence.


The Business Technology Forum collects examples of excellent operating models to manage Business Technology:

You can read The Mundanity of Excellence at


About the author

Menno Huijben is a Senior Executive at Sofigate and a concept owner of Business Technology Transformations and Data Leadership.

Menno is interested in the realm of decision-making in business, especially where a data-driven mindset meets intuition and experience. His motto is ”Don’t forget the Human Factor!”