The Best or Nothing

Today’s post is written by guest blogger Mark Hamel.  Mark is the author of the Shingo Award winning Kaizen Event Field Book.  Mark full bio follows his article below.

Recently, Mercedes Benz introduced a new brand claim. You may have seen it on TV or in print. It uses a direct quote from founding father Gottlieb Daimler, “The best or nothing.”

It sounds cool. Not that I’m ready to shell out a boat-load of money for a sexy new car. But, it clearly gets across that the Mercedes guys are uncompromising.

As a top executive from Mercedes Benz put it, “For us, [it] means we want to deliver the very best in all areas – be that in research and development, production, sales, service and aftermarket business or in purchasing.”

I have a hard time arguing with that. I know what they mean. It’s a powerful and noble principle.

And yet, the words grate on my (hopefully) lean thinking mind.

Now, I assume that Mercedes Benz is not anti-kaizen, but the brand claim, IF taken out of context, COULD be construed that way.

Specifically, lean practitioners can never, EVER defer to the “…or nothing,” part of the brand claim!

Perfection is not digital. It’s not, “do or not do,” as in I’m either going to make this improvement right here and be perfect or I’m not budging.  Instead, it’s plan-do-check-adjust (PDCA)…over and over and over again.

Seek perfection is a critical lean principle. It’s what provides the never-ending creative tension and the drive to identify opportunities for improvement and formulate and execute countermeasures.

But, at the same time, we can’t let this guiding principle cripple our bias for action. Consistent with the notion of kaizen, frequent, small incremental improvements drive big sustainable improvements. The best improvement is usually the one we can do right now.

General George S. Patton knew this, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite time in the future.”

In a PDCA environment, we have to be scientists. We plan, we do, we check and reflect, and then we make adjustments. The likelihood that our plans are perfect is pretty much ZERO. We don’t know what we don’t know. So we need to be ACTING courageous scientists.

…Hence the reason NOT to spend forever and a day to come up with the perfect solution. Perfection ain’t going to happen in one shot, anyway.  Don’t let that freeze you out of the pursuit. Instead, wash, rinse and repeat with a vengeance. It’s truly the only path to perfection.


Today’s post was written by Mark R. Hamel.  Mark blogs at Gemba Tales and can be contacted at  

Mark Hamel is a lean six sigma implementation consultant. He has played a transformative role in lean implementations across a broad range of industries including aerospace and defense, automotive, building products, business services, chemical, durable goods, electronics, insurance, healthcare and transportation services. Mark has successfully coached lean leaders and associates at both the strategic and tactical level. He has facilitated hundreds of kaizen events and conducted numerous training sessions and workshops.

Mark’s 19 year pre-consulting career encompassed executive and senior positions within operations, strategic planning, business development and finance. His lean education and experience began in the early 1990’s when he conceptualized and helped launch what resulted in a Shingo award winning effort at the Ensign-Bickford Company.

Mark holds a BS in Mathematics from Trinity College in Hartford, CT, a MS in Professional Accounting from the University of Hartford and a MA in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is a CPA in the state of Connecticut and is dual American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS) certified in production and inventory management (CPIM) and integrated resource management (CIRM). A national Shingo Prize examiner, Mark assisted in the development of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME)/Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME)/Shingo Lean Certification exam questions. He is also Juran certified as a six sigma black belt and a member of SME, AME and APICS.  Mark authored the Kaizen Event Fieldbook: Foundation, Framework, and Standard Work for Effective Events, published by SME in October of 2009. The Fieldbook won a Shingo Research and Professional Publications Award in 2010.

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About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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5 Responses to The Best or Nothing

  1. Hi Mark,
    You have just solve me a problem on convincing people about constant improvement.
    This article has just tought me how to educate operations to start focusing on small baby steps to improve the quality because the most sustainable improvement is ” small incremental improvements and the best improvement is usually the one we can do right now”

    If i get the leaders to understand it , half the battle is won in my quality journey ! Great Post Mark. good read !

  2. Mark R Hamel says:

    Hi Ganesh,

    Thanks for the comment. Glad that you found the post value-adding.

    To use an old baseball analogy, everybody loves the big home run, but it’s the bunts, walks, and singles that really win most games…and engage the most players.

    Best regards,
    Mark Hamel

  3. Anita says:

    Hello Mark, I googled Mercedes Benz and lean manufacturing and I happened upon your article. I was most impressed by your statement “Seek perfection is a critical lean principle. It’s what provides the never-ending creative tension and the drive to identify opportunities for improvement and formulate and execute countermeasures.” My goal is to use my influences to help an organization to get that idea and to execute that idea as a matter of course. Thank you for all your efforts to help improve how we experience our environment.

  4. Mark R Hamel says:

    Hi Anita,

    Thanks for the comment. The lean principle of seek perfection is primarily one of culture. Best of luck as a most important agent of change.

    Best regards,

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