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The One Percent

In the last five minutes of this clip from a speaker panel at St. Petersburg College called “Cosmic Quandaries”, noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about the one percent difference in DNA between chimpanzees and people.

Of particular interest is his discussion tying the scope of that tiny one percent difference to each species’ capabilities.

While the smartest chimp was able to learn to sign a small vocabulary of words, it is something almost any small child can learn. Meanwhile, that small child can go on to create the Hubble Telescope.

Tyson then extends that idea to compare the capabilities of a species that could visit Earth from another planet, much less another galaxy, to the capabilities we have – just as he compared the smartest chimp and a young child.

That same one percent difference in DNA between humans and the visiting species might represent in a massive difference in capability.

If the difference in capabilities is similar to the chimp-human gap, Tyson ponders that their kids’ Stephen Hawking-class quantum mechanics work might be considered as “cute” as our kids’ pasta collages and thus, be displayed on their refrigerator doors.

Tyson calls these thoughts “fascinatingly disturbing”.

Fascinatingly disturbing

Once you’ve soaked up that “fascinatingly disturbing” thought, consider a few questions that are a bit more down-to-earth:

  • What makes up the one percent difference between you and the rest of your market?
  • What makes up the one percent between you and the rest of the followers in your market and the leader of your market?
  • What special products/services do you provide to the customers whose capabilities are one percent better than their competition?

Whether your business is leading your market or not, it’s entirely possible that the differences between the leader and everyone else is as small as that one percent Tyson discusses. And that one percent might appear to be an insurmountable lead.

History shows that, over time, insurmountable leads aren’t. This is particularly true when it comes to businesses that grow/strengthen for decades or create something that seems unachievable by anyone else.

Steve Jobs is revered for his attention to a level of detail that most couldn’t be bothered with, yet he is vilified by some for being unreasonable. Circumstantial evidence backing up the value of being unreasonable appears via several quality-related stumbles in the early years of Apple’s post-Jobs era.

Tolerances matter, even if they aren’t one percent differences.

What are your “acceptable” tolerances?

Acceptable tolerances vary.

You might find a quarter inch difference acceptable when pouring a concrete footing for a parking garage, yet even 10% of that might be considered unacceptably dangerous when making a fuel injection part, an airtight seal for the International Space Station or a precision engineered part for the action of a firearm.

When it comes to the performance of your marketing, accounting, labor, recruiting, training, legal, tools, systems and staff – your tolerances will vary depending on the nature of what’s being measured. Do they vary because variances are OK, or because you just don’t do anything about them?

When I see companies performing at optimal levels – or improving quickly – it’s often because they’ve narrowed their tolerances on a short list of critical things that separate them from their competitors. Struggling companies are often lax about the same things.

What do “acceptable tolerances” mean for your business?

Just one percent

Is it OK to be 36 seconds late for every appointment, conference call or meeting with a customer? What message is sent by disregarding that one percent of an hour?

In a store that does $3000 a day in retail sales, is it OK to be off by $30 a day? That one percent is almost $11k in a year’s time.

Is it OK for an airline to be one percent off on distance or direction?

Is it OK if one of every 100 employees steals from you and your customers?

Is it OK to lose one percent of your customers each month? Probably depends on the lost customers.

The seriousness of the one percent and your tolerance of it is complex and it’s not just about the measurement or the percentage. It’s about knowing what makes you stand out and become the only obvious choice – and making sure you’re unreasonable about those things.