World Class Perspectives

There is something reassuring about America’s “exceptionalism”.  It makes one swell with pride and wonder why others are not as successful.  Wrong color, wrong language, wrong religion, wrong genes?  What is it that makes America so special?

This is a tough question since it begs the obvious.  Should it be “what made” America so special or does it still apply today?  In fact it can be argued that America is just fine as a place to live and work but it is no more special or exceptional than many other places in the world.

Shocked?

When the Japanese auto industry reintroduced the US to quality principles that US had pioneered 20 or more years before, along for the ride came the notion of “worldclass”.  This referred to procedures, services, or products that were measurably the best in the world.  In the 60’s and 70’s, most Americans thought Detroit’s automobiles were the best in the world.  They thought this until they became familiar with Hondas, Toyotas, and Nissans.  Then Americans realized there were ways to build good looking, well functioning, and much cheaper automobiles.

So the notion of world class is needed even more today.  Ask yourself these questions:

Education.  Why does the US spend more than any other country per capita for K-12 education.  (Clue, it is not because the US education system produces the brightest students.)

Health Care.  Why does the US spend more per capita for individual health care services than any other country?  (Clue it is not because everyone receive basic coverage or that the health outcomes are the best in the world.)

Prisons.  Why does the US imprison more people per capita than any other country in the world?  (Clue, it is not because crime is being eradicated.)

Guns.  Why does the US allow more guns per capita than any other country in the world?  (Clue, it is not because we have more hunters than other countries.)

College Tuition.  Why is university and college tuition so high and rising faster each year than any other country in the world?  (Clue, it is not because graduating students are finding employment which makes a great return on the college expense investment.)

One of the reason America is a special place, I think, is that our society tolerates asking questions like these.  It is acceptable (although often scorned) to question propositions, values, and long held opinions.  The question is how to accomplish this without erecting equal untrue counter positions.

World class standards is a very helpful tool.  World class can mean New York looking to what Oregon is doing about K-12 education.  Or, anyone wondering why the US imprisons so many could look to Germany, Spain, Greece, or even Russia to compare prison populations and attempt to identify causes.

Interestingly, the Big 3 could have been studying Japanese automobiles long before they lost so much market share.  But they didn’t.  The US still has time to institute change in those procedures, services, and products which are not achieving their intent.

But unless we open our thinking to “world class” standards, we might find ourselves where the Baldwin Locomotive company found itself in 1948 – introducing the absolute best steam locomotive when the diesel engine was taking market share.

 

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