Too Busy to Improve

Jonathan Ogden Armour, was the oldest son of Phillip Danforth Armour, founder of Armour and Co.

Briefly attending Yale in 1881, Armour voluntarily left school in 1883 at the request of his father to receive early training and experience in the already large and growing business.  Within a year he was made a partner.

In 1898 the company became the focus of "the Embalmed Beef" scandal, involving meat shipped to soldiers fighting the Spanish-American war. The scandal led to increased scrutiny of conditions at the Chicago meat packing plants and a Congressional investigation. Soon thereafter, his father’s health began to fail.  And upon his father’s withdrawal from active plant management after 1899, Armour took over direction of the company.

As one of the leading figures in the “Beef Trust” Armour was a central figure in the Federal Government’s 1902 action to regulate the industry based upon the Sherman Antitrust Actof 1890, and the interstate commerce Clause of the United States’ Constitution.  This action directly led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Swift & Co. v. U.S. (1905) decision.

During this period, Armour was also directly involved in putting down the bitter 1904 strike by union workers at his slaughterhouses in Chicago. The strike was broken after Armour hired non-union black and immigrant workers to replace striking workers. In 1906 Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" was published, and one of the novel’s antagonists-a character only slightly veiled as Armour- was blamed for the horrible conditions workers faced in the meatpacking plants featured in the book.

By all available accounts, despite being on the wrong side of history and his having benefited from his family’s wealth and influence, Armour was a quiet and thoughtful individual. Perhaps influenced by his father’s own humble beginnings as a farm boy,  he believed deeply in the “American Dream” and the philosophy of self-improvement.

The following article, “Too Busy to Improve”, was originally published as an inspirational message in the company publication, Armour Magazine, and subsequently re-published in the
Sausalito News (Volume 38, Number 3), 21 January 1922, p. 8, and numerous other periodicals of the day.

It is often quoted, but rarely in full text.  It is worthy of remembrance:

When opportunity knocks at your door, do you answer, "I haven't time"?

This is the age-old excuse that has kept many a man from making his mark. In its capacity for covering a multitude of short-comings, it has no equal.

It's the world's greatest alibi.

Whoever admits that he is too busy to improve his methods, has acknowledged himself to be at the end of-his rope. And that is always the saddest predicament which anyone can get into.
For there is a vast difference between being busy and making progress. When we see that clearly, we have gained an important bit of wisdom.

The easiest thing some people do is to keep busy.

You have seen the person who is always busy-doing trivial things.

Opportunity comes to him as to all others; but he is so occupied with sharpening his lead pencils, reading the mail or attending to other ordinary duties, that he has no time to listen. The routine of his work swallows him up, and he forgets what he is busy for. His favorite idea, and his response to all requests is, “I haven't time."

The man who makes progress is of a different stripe. He doesn't steal the office boy's work in order to keep engaged.  He does not think of his job as something to fill up his time; but as something to accomplish.  He has a goal; and he is always thinking, planning and seeking the quickest and best way to attain it.

Man must often choose between the trivial and the worthwhile.  When a proposal is put to him by his co-workers, who wish to guide and help him, how easy it is to reply, "I haven't time."
But that is not the pathway to progress.

He should rather say to himself, "Let's assume that here is opportunity. I must consider carefully what it has to offer. Maybe I'll have to re-adjust my time; perhaps I'll have to change my methods. But I am ready for anything that will help the business." Whoever reasons and acts thus, cannot go far astray in the business world.

The man who is eager to improve, does not ignore requests. When he is asked to do something that he believes to be less important than the things that already occupy his time, he will think the subject through and then prove his point.

And "I haven't time" does not prove it!

All of us have time to improve-not only at the suggestion of others, but of our own initiative.

All of us wish to improve-for therein lies the greatest pleasure of honest work.

All of us can improve- for around all about us are many things on which we may start right now.
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