In his autobiography Why Not the Best? President Jimmy Carter tells about his Rickover interview. The admiral asked how he had stood in his class at the Naval Academy. "I swelled my chest with pride and answered, 'Sir, I stood 59th in a class of 820!' I sat back to wait for the congratulations.
"Instead came the question: 'Did you do your best?' I started to say, 'Yes, sir,' but I remembered who this was. I gulped and admitted, 'No, sir, I didn't always do my best.' He looked at me for a long time, and then asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget— or to answer. He said, 'Why not?'"
A Gentler Side. Yet Rickover himself always gave what he demanded of others. When a subordinate once suggested that the countless hours the admiral devoted to recruiting and training were not an efficient use of his time, Rickover disagreed. "The only way to make a difference in the world is to put ten times as much effort into everything as anyone else thinks is reasonable," he said. "It doesn't leave any time for golf or cocktails, but it gets things done."