The signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, ending the Second World War, took place on board the battleship USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. In order to make the ceremony appropriate for the occasion, a tremendous number of details were planned. Military rank and protocol were carefully considered, special pens were selected, certain flags were picked, speeches were carefully written, etc. A fancy British mahogany table was brought aboard the Missouri and placed in the designated spot on deck where the official documents would be signed. On the morning of the ceremony, when the actual documents were brought out to be placed on the table, it was immediately clear that the beautiful mahogany table was too small to hold the documents. So, the organizers quickly scrambled down to the ship’s mess hall, grabbed a table which had just been used for the crew’s breakfast, swiped a green, coffee-stained tablecloth from the ship’s wardroom, and hustled them onto deck in place of the mahogany table. The solution worked, and the ceremony went otherwise as planned.
There are probably a few lessons in here for us as leaders and managers. One that jumps out to me is the difference between appearance and effectiveness. So often in the dynamic world of retail management, we come across people and ideas which look great on the surface. What really matters is their ability to serve the function for which they are intended. Sure, many times people and ideas accomplish both – they look great, and they are highly effective. But we must constantly be aware of the potential for a gap, and when a gap is identified, we must quickly act in favor of the effective over the beautiful.