In Search of Perfection: Ready, Fire, Aim

You might disagree with Sam Walton’s mass merchandising approach to retailing, but you’d have to admit that he was extraordinarily successful in building Wal-Mart into a retail colossus. Walton is credited with the business philosophy expressed in the phrase “Ready, Fire, Aim.”

Walton was a pragmatist, not a perfectionist. He understood that any idea, project, or product has time limitations. His philosophy was to get the project to market or to completion as quickly and as reasonably well done as possible, given the time constraints of the marketplace. Once it was up and running, a project could be adjusted and improved and the kinks ironed out. In other words, working on perfection takes patience, time, and an understanding of those who are less than perfect.

The recent post-election events and the circus-like activities connected with the vote-counting drill bring to mind a similar search for perfection in the jewelry industry. I refer to the industry’s version of the third rail-conflict diamonds.

The election and conflict diamonds are related in their search for perfection. Who can argue with the premise that every vote should be counted? Who can argue that the atrocities in Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Congo are inhuman and repulsive? Who can argue with the conscience of Jews who relate the African atrocities with the genocide of the Holocaust? No one can.

Yet, to me, the logic of holding the diamond industry accountable for African atrocities is wrong. Various groups have warned the industry that they would “go public” unless procedures were put in place to guarantee that no diamond gets to market to profit the thugs who terrorize these countries. Being decent human beings, the members of the diamond industry were horrified at the images of children whose limbs were severed by these so-called revolutionaries. Being practical people, the members of the diamond community recognized that such negative publicity is bad for the product that represents all of their business and half of the retail jewelry business. As a result, they met with representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the United Nations, and the governments of diamond-producing and -consuming nations to discuss ways of addressing this problem.

Recently, my attention was drawn to a presentation made to the subcommittee on trade of the House Committee on Ways and Means looking into this matter. It was made by J.F. Jolis, a self-described “American diamond dealer/consultant who has worked for thirty years in every part of the globe where diamonds are mined, bought, sold, and cut.” His blunt presentation is worth reading if for no other reason than to get a different perspective of the problem, which is that it’s been going on for years in Africa. The only difference today is that the NGOs have latched onto an industry that is not well prepared to defend itself.

To its credit, the diamond industry has responded to the issue. And credit is due to every industry association and executive who has addressed this problem, including Cecilia Gardner at the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, Eli Haas at the Diamond Dealers Club, Jeff Fischer at the Diamond Manufacturers Association, Bill Boyajian at GIA, and Matt Runci of Jewelers of America. The NGOs should take a cue from Sam Walton and Judge Sanders Saul, and recognize that from merchandising to elections, we attain perfection only in the next life. In the here and now, it’s our responsibility to make things better.