He comes to the class towards the end of each term, pulls out a chair, sits down, open his 2B exercise book, and starts to reel out names:
‘James Brown, first test …4, second test……4½, third test ….5, You are improving o. You are doing fine! I am sure you will get 10 in your next test.
Tope Alabi, first test…..2, second test …….3, third test ……5…..Oh my God…..a round of applause for her (We all roar in laughter).
Lasisi Waheed, first test 0, second test……2, third test ……4. Hmmmmm. You are doing exceptionally well o. Maybe in the next test, you will get 10’.
That was Mr. Ajibola, my J.S 2 Mathematics teacher. An elderly man who first taught me the importance of ‘progressive improvement’. Mathematics is one of the most (if not the most) important subjects taught in schools and failure was never an option. Mr. Ajibola knew this too well that he developed a culture of ‘progressive improvement’.
In as much as many would love to get most of the scores in his tests leading up to the terminal exams, he knew not all will achieve that. Each time he came to reel out names and scores, he usually focused on those with lower scores but made sure to highlight those with improvements. They were usually rewarded with rounds of applauses, handshakes, and maybe sarcastic standing ovations from fellow students. Truth is that this idea of appreciating ‘progressive improvement’ worked most of the time after each term. This is simply because every student wanted to prove that he or she could also make these improvements, have their names called, and be given rounds of applause. Most importantly, students wanted to give their all to move to the next class. So, we always went back to the textbooks, asked seniors questions, did more exercises, and practiced a lot of questions.
Too often, I come across many small business owners in a rush to move from starting a business to making 100% profit. Many do not give room for improvements, corrections, or business amendments. At the end of the day, they get frustrated, depressed and eventually the business bears the brunt of these bad calls. Statistically, it should take a new business between 18 to 24 months to reach profitability, but many new businesses want to break even in 6 months.
As a Sales Manager, I have had and seen reps who fell into this trap. All they wanted to do was to impress their managers with figures of sales and not with actions of improvement. While sales are all about figures, figures are always tied to activities.
I have had reps who just wanted to show me figures (the what) achieved and not actions (the how). Successes without a trail of ‘progressive improvements’ are usually unreproducible.
Mr. Ajbola taught me that ‘progressive improvements’ in any endeavor will always almost certainly lead to a predictable end.