Picks and Pans Review: In Search of Excellence
PBS (Wednesday, Jan. 16, 9 p.m. ET)
In Search of Excellence, a documentary based on the book of the same name, should be required viewing in every boardroom and bureaucrat’s warren in the U.S. The narrator, John Nathan, puts the issue bluntly: “Everyone knows that American business is in trouble,” he says. The show offers some cures in the examples of a few successful companies: Walt Disney World instilling its workers with the corporate philosophy according to Mickey Mouse at Disney U; a Connecticut supermarket making $1.5 million a week (versus a typical $200,000) simply by listening to its customers; how 3M came up with its successful Post-it Notes thanks to the inspiration of a church choir member who wanted to stick markers in his music. There are some fascinating glimpses inside industry, from a 3M executive meeting where the big boys decide to spend $20 million on a new product, to the labyrinth under Disney World where actors learn to be Goofy. Some quotes from interviews are suitable for framing in any corporate cog’s office. Here’s what Apple Chairman Steve Jobs said about the professional managers he hired—and fired: “Most of them were bozos. They know how to manage. But they didn’t know how to do anything.” After a revival-meeting speech by an IBM exec and a McOlympics for McDonald’s cooks, the narrator concedes that some of this corporate cheerleading “can be hard to swallow…can look and sound like manipulation.” It is. But the show’s lesson is a simple one, well-taught and well-needed: American industry’s people are its most undervalued assets.