From Chapter 13 “Efficiency” in Ingredients of Outliers.
How Sweet it Is
The concept of “efficiency” certainly isn’t new. There’s another giant company where efficiency is a primary goal, a company that’s been around quite a bit longer than Amazon. In fact, the seeds that grew to become Mars, Incorporated were planted in the late nineteenth century in the kitchen of a home in Hancock, Minnesota. It was there that Alva Mars began teaching her young son, Franklin, how to hand-dip candy.
Franklin, who became better known as Frank, proved to be a good student and, in 1902, when he was 19-years-old, he began selling molasses chips. In 1910, he founded the Mars Candy Company in Tacoma, Washington. It enjoyed early success but went out of business a few years later. Undeterred, Frank Mars moved his young family to Minneapolis and, in 1920, he founded the Mar-O-Bar Company, which was incorporated three years later as Mars, Incorporated.
By then, Frank’s son Forrest had become active in the business and it was at his suggestion that the company introduced what became the famous Milky Way candy bar. Other products followed, including Snickers and M&Ms, as the company continued to grow and prosper.
Today, Mars is a worldwide company, which is still 100 percent owned by the Mars family and ranked by FORBES as the third largest privately owned company in the United States. Based now in McLean, Virginia, it has 72,000 employees and completes an estimated 200 million consumer transactions—every day! Its global revenues exceed $30 billion dollars a year.
What accounts for such outstanding success, sustained for the better part of a century? The answer to that question can be found on the organize all our assets—physical, financial and human—for maximum productivity. In this way, our products and services are made and delivered with the highest quality, at the least possible cost, with the lowest consumption of resources; similarly, we seek to manage all our business operations with the most efficient processes for decision making.”
Efficiency is one of “The Five Principles of Mars,” the others being Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, and Freedom. These principles, company officials report, “are the foundation of our culture and our approach to business. They unite us across geographies, languages, cultures and generations. Our Five Principles are synonymous with Mars and have been guiding Mars Associates throughout most of our company’s history.” Visit any of Mars’ 400 manufacturing facilities and offices, located in 73 countries, and you’ll find “The Five Principles of Mars” prominently displayed.
On a Personal Note
Having looked at these giant companies and the role efficiency has played in their growth and success, I don’t want to minimize its importance in much smaller settings as well. Based on my own experience in the field of emergency and urgent care medicine, and as a pilot, I can testify to its importance. When you observe a pilot or a surgeon in action, you’ll see that the ones who are the most adroit make the least number of moves, corrections, and control inputs. Their hands glide effortlessly over the controls or instruments. They have economy of movement, thus conserving energy and enhancing their efficiency.
While efficiency can have life or death consequences in either field, many of the lessons I’ve learned can be applied in a wide range of situations, large or small. Here are just a few suggestions you may find helpful in becoming more efficient—whatever the task:
- Preparation: Do your homework
- Anticipation: Murphy may be right around the corner
- Focus: It’s easy to get distracted, especially in routine matters
- Flexibility: The best laid plans…
- Limitations: None o us is as smart as all of us
- Communication: Everyone on the same page
- Delegation: Be ready to pass the baton