The Spirit of Quality

There has always been the allure of quality; it has always been important to people. Why is quality desired in life?

Recognizing the expectation of it and the demand for it, organizations seek to provide it. Nokia offers a glimpse of why they pursue quality: The fundamental reason for focusing on quality issues is the potential for an increased profitability of the project. Although there may be more philosophical answers to why quality is important, the bottom line is that consumers recognize quality, and are willing to pay for it. Yet, most organizations find it difficult to consistently deliver it.

With the lens of the Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm firmly secured in our mind’s eye it is not surprising that objects are most readily seen. Correspondingly, organizations are designed to meet material needs and managing is about tools, techniques and metrics. Further, it is this point of view that supports misunderstanding of Deming’s approach to quality just as it had with Taylor’s scientific management. Hence the belief that it is (only) good for manufacturing and that it is a purely quantitative and mechanical process.

Accordingly, the popular approach to quality places it as an extra activity to the operations of the enterprise. That is, if an organization ‘is doing quality’ then quality is in addition to what is already being done. The creation of a quality department and a vice president of quality position are classic illustrations of this. It is therefore not surprising to see that quality becomes an expense that is often difficult to justify.

Quality is rarely understood as a foundational or elemental part of an organization’s core. Further, it is extremely unusual to see it understood as an inherent capability of people. Martin Luther King expressed this best: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Most fail to understand that quality is inhibited by the very way organizations are designed and managed. Again and again Deming exclaimed ‘the problem is management!’

The problem with management is a lack of profound knowledge and an absence of self-knowledge. Quality doesn’t come from being certified—no matter the expense of the certification process. Quality is not cost reduction, the elimination of waste or defects—these are the result of efforts in support of quality. Those in authority don’t really get it! How could they when their mind’s eye and the thought they are pursuing inhibit the light of understanding from entering?

They don’t get that quality is the expression of the human spirit that lies within each of us. It is the same care and love of one’s work that makes mother’s apple pie the absolute best—even if another follows the recipe exactly it never quite measures up. It is the same expressed spirit that we acknowledge in the stirring performance of an actress, the melodic voice of a singer, the effortless movement of a dancer, the imagery in the painting of an artist, and the athleticism of an athlete. What is common among these is each becomes one with what they are doing. That is, quality is not merely employing skills and going through the motions. Quality is the expression of human potential that captures our attention and serves as a means of satisfaction and as a means for us to share and honor our humanness—it resonates within each of us.

Because life (in business) has become far too instrumental for purposes of outer value, most can’t seem to understand that quality is not about meeting specifications, nor is it about whether ones’ belt is green or black. Quality is the manifestation of care and concern for the expression of human potential through one’s work—making a job a joy. Quality is enabling the flow of the human spirit, and this is what most people in management don’t get!

21 thoughts on “The Spirit of Quality

  1. Your second question concerning the empirical eye and one eye open set me off doing a little research on Google with some interesting, thought provoking results. Perhaps worthy of several other discussions,

    The whole thrust of my contribution to this discussion and others that I have tried to contribute to and even started is that as Process and Quality Professionals we are all missing some thing vital, which is probably staring us all in the face. To an extent I am also concerned that we as professionals have also started to disconnect from real life and the real needs of business, our employers and our clients.

    I think some times we should all take notice of Joe Public and their notions of quality, which are generally comparative and subjective.

    The current numeric and statistical techniques we use are very dangerous instruments if we do apply then with intelligence and sensitivity.

    In the UK there has been some disastrous applications in the public service of applying metrics and statistics. For the Police service, arrest rates have rocketed, but they tend to be for very minor offences rather than the types of crimes and criminals that the general public is really concerned about. The ones that affect the quality of life.

    In Education our schools are being turned to exam factories to such an extent that there is massive disconnection between what parents and most educationalists say should be happening and what is. Many believe that education is also about preparing our children for adulthood as well as exams; success at preparing for adulthood is much harder to measure.

    In Medicine similar problems with metrics apply, UK and hospitals doctors now only want to treat healthy patients, the sick ones perversely tend to get ignored.

    In my earlier comment I mentioned the arts, I think we should also think about the cinema, the theatre newspapers and literature, Critics will tell you a best selling book is not necessarily a good book, similar comments apply to music. High Quality Journals and news papers tend to have much lower readership numbers than popular media because of their challenging content. Low quality literature generally having a much higher readership, Films an theatre are a similar case.

    Just imagine what would happen to crime fiction or comedy films if its quality and passage to publication was controlled by the methodology we employ in other industry and commerce. They as genres would die. Is this what we are doing to industry and commerce.

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