Get Better, Not Bigger

Worry about being better; bigger will take care of itself – Gary Comer


In June 2020, Carol Tome took over CEO responsibilities and succeeded David Abney at the helm of one of the longest-standing delivery services companies, UPS. Since its inception over 114 years ago, the company has been a leader in delivery services. When Tome took over, she was quick to realize that the world, especially in the delivery services industry, was quickly changing. This realization prompted the “better, not bigger” strategy for the company’s future growth. Adopting this strategy is based on Tome’s belief that “what got us here won’t get us there,” which she stated on the 2020 Q2 earnings call. Evidence of this was the sale of UPS’ freight service, viewed as capital intensive but low on returns. By shrinking UPS in size, Tome was convinced UPS can become better and improve its services to customers. 

The better not bigger approach in business has proven fruitful for UPS, but it is an equally fruitful and advisable approach to life. Being better instead of bigger means working on growth from the inside out. While bigger is focused on visibility, being better is focused on value. It entails a brutally honest assessment of every area of our lives with the willingness to offload any unnecessary weight

Am I Better?

As a goal-oriented person, my vision was to increase my subscribers. I watched each week as followers grew. Then it hit me, “What will happen when I reach 100 followers?” A better way to gauge my success in blogging was necessary. This drove me to look at previous blog posts and confront myself with the question, “Am I a better writer?” 

Recently in sports, top athletes have admitted to the mental toll of competing at a high level. The documentary Weight of Gold sheds light on the tremendous pressure athletes endure in the quest to win on the biggest stage while their mental health plummets. We look at these athletes as heroes from the outside, not knowing they are dying on the inside. Each athlete in the documentary revealed how their mental health was not prioritized, as long as they performed and got bigger by winning medals and breaking records. They were celebrated and cheered as fault lines developed in their lives. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian with 22 medals, confessed there was a time he didn’t want to live anymore. In spite of how big he became, he was mentally and emotionally broken. 

To improve our quality of life, the question of better not bigger must be confronted. Sidestepping this challenge is detrimental to our growth and ability to add value to others. The ignore and override strategy employed by athletes, and many of us will not suffice. The best way to add value is to increase our value or, in other words, become better. As we choose to become better, we deepen our relationships with others. Mentally, emotionally, and socially, we are healthier.

Easier Said Than Done

It is easy to look at external success and believe it is a metric to total success. However, a veneer is created that makes it impossible to see the cost of success when personal growth is overlooked. For all the broken records attributed to Phelps, none of them could fix his broken mind. Phelps began the process of getting better when he hit rock bottom. In 2014, traffic police pulled him over in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland for excessive speeding (84mph in a 45mph zone). He failed a sobriety test and was subsequently arrested for DUI. He needed to get better. He checked into a 45-day rehab facility, and upon his return to the pool he observed, “The performances were there because I worked, recovered, slept, and took care of myself more than I ever had.” What does it take to get better? 

Take a Hard Look

For UPS to get better, Carol Tome put everything except the company’s core principles under review. To get better we must be willing to put everything except our core values under the microscope. Just because you have been doing something a certain way for years doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way. Like Tome, what are you willing to offload to get better for the next season of your life? Getting better rather than bigger is a countercultural approach to life, but its benefits outweigh the cost. We are living in a time of changing dynamics. There is a rapid intensification of negative events around the world. The future that we are heading into requires that we get better if effective solutions are to be discovered and applied to the myriad of rising problems. 

Final Thought: In a world that focuses on getting bigger, it’s time to go against the grain and elect to be better. By choosing better over bigger, our desire to improve in areas that matter results in greater overall impact. While the desire to get bigger fosters an environment of unhealthy competition and cutting corners, getting better creates an environment where collaboration, creativity, innovation, better quality, and character-led growth are the modus operandi. 

Keep on keeping on. 


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