Last weekend (September 6, 2009), Seattle Mariners’ outfielder, Ichiro Suzuki, became the second-fastest player in (U.S.) Major League baseball history to hit 2,000 career hits (this does not count the 1,278 hits he had in Japan before coming to Seattle).  One week later, Ichiro (he is known far-and-wide by his first name) became the first player in history to have nine consecutive 200-hit seasons.

In his chosen profession, this 35-year old is truly a Creator!

As reported in a Seattle Times article by sports writer Geoff Baker, Ichiro was asked about the goal of surpassing 3,000 hits.  Part of his response was fascinating: “If I set a goal for myself like that, it kind of makes a barrier and in that way might lower my potential.”  His focus is not on a specific goal, but on mastery of his craft as a player – and the physical conditioning and mental preparation that are at the center of his craft.

His comment brought to mind a story heard many years ago about a conversation between two business executives – one American and the other Japanese.  They were talking about the challenges and benefits of leading corporate cultures with “total quality management” at thier core.

The American executive declared, “It is so important to us that we have set a goal of winning the Malcom Baldrige Award within the next five years.  We are committed to whatever it takes to go win the award!”  (The Baldrige Award was established by the U.S. Congress in 1987 to recognize U.S. organizations for their achievements in quality and performance.)

The Japanese executive was stunned.  “What do you mean you intend to ‘go win the award’?” he asked.  “In our company, our focus is on implementing total quality and practicing the disciplines every day.  If we do this, perhaps some day the Deming Prize will come to us.” (The Deming Prize was established in 1950 to reward Japanese companies for quality improvement.)

This difference in approach – and culture – is reflected in Ichiro’s statement.  The Western-culture mindset tends to focus on goals.  Ichiro’s Eastern (Japanese) pardigm is focused on mastery of the discipline and the craft.

Both have a place and both can be useful.  One might set a personal goal of losing 20 pounds or an organization may aim to increase customer satisfaction ratings by 20%.  However, once the goals are attained, it may be all-too-easy to revert back to old habits and patterns.  Instead, if we set our personal focus on developing sustainable healthy lifestyle habits (i.e. exercise and healthy eating) or our organization practices continuous improvement of customer relations, both goals will eventually be attained.

That is the perspective of a Creator that Ichiro is speaking to – mastery of the disciplines and the craft to which we are passionately committed.

What discipline(s) and craft(s) are you passionately committed to practicing?