Discussions of quality are frequently subject to semantic snags. And reading the “old masters” only compounds the difficulty. The ancient Greeks equated quality with goodness, excellence and inherent worth. They were, in fact, the rascals who taught that quality is an unattainable goal, an ideal that can only be approximated in reality.
Contemporary writers have helped perpetuate the myth of quality as unattainable. In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Morrow, 1974), Robert Pirsig laments that a sense of quality is no longer a part of the work most people do. Reflecting on the technicians who mechanically mauled his motorcycle three times in the same week, he observes, “The question why comes back again and again.
Why did they butcher it so? These are not people running away from technology; these are the technologists themselves. They sat down to do a job, and they performed it like chimpanzees. Nothing personal in it. They were like spectators. No identification with the job; no saying, Tm a mechanic!’ They cut off their thoughts about the job at 5 p.m. and were trying to cut them off while on the job. Caring about what you are doing [today] is considered unimpor¬tant or taken for granted.”
Several hundred pages later, Pirsig concludes that quality is the essence of perception and effort, and it’s the real value of working, both for self and others. “At the moment of pure quality, subject and object are identi¬cal. ‘Getting with it,’ ‘digging it,’ ‘grooving on it’ are all slang reflec¬tions of this identity. It is this identity that is the basis of craftsmanship. And it is this identity that modern technology lacks. The creator has no sense of identity with it.”
Another stab at defining quality appears in David Hon’s soon-to-be-published book Trade-Offs (Learning Concepts, 1980). Hon looks at quality as a word with a six-step hierarchy of meanings, any one of which might be the operating definition at a given time.
Quality as existence
At the lowest rung of the ladder, we ask whether the “thing” in question actually exists. “This seems,” says Hon, “to be common sense, although it is often not, especially when deal¬ing with rumor and innuendo….Until we determine that a state or thing truly exists, we cannot begin to evaluate its quality.”
Quality as validity
Once a thing is determined to exist, the question becomes, “Is it what it claims to be?” or, better yet, “Does it work or riot?” “We really can’t judge the quality of a child’s 69-cent watch that has hands fixed at eight o’clock, because it doesn’t work like a watch is supposed to….It exists, but is not a valid watch,” Hon explains.
Quality as tolerance
This is quality defined in a way similar to David Crosby’s use of the term (as explained in the accompany¬ing article). Hon explains quality as tolerance this way:
Tolerance is some leeway allowed for variation from a standard. Anyone who has manufactured anything in volume is familiar with the concept of tolerance. A bag of cookies has 16 ounces of cookies plus or minus one ounce.
New lawn furniture may have to be beaten with a ham¬mer when assembling it so that ill-shaped parts fit together. You may even have to drill new holes, because the original ones were manufactured with a wide tolerance. Each piece may not be exactly like another off the production line because:
1) the manufacturing system was not designed to produce close consistency;
2) quality control was lax or nonexistent.
In manufacturing, production time and cost rise as tolerance levels become closer. It is much more expensive to manufacture a product that will not vary more than one one-thousandth inch than to produce one that will vary no more than one one-hundreth inch.
Closer tolerances must be closer to something, and even the first expression of some ideal can be the basis for a useful standard. Semanticists call the language of ideals and standards directive language. The ideal is stated, but not expected to be achieved.
“A scout is cheerful,” one of 12 rules of scouting, is not a statement of fact. It states a condition scouts would[like to exist. This statement provides a direction or ideal standard of performance as a scout. “The ideal bag of cookies will have 16 ounces of pure cookie” is an awfully demanding expectation in producing a million boxes.
But it forms a useful standard against which to work when you add a statement of expected variance, “within five percent either way, of course.”
This perception of quality has been useful to science and industry and could be extremely useful to all walks of life. To know that a scout is not always cheerful— that cheerfulness is only an ideal— is the first step toward making quality trade-offs.
We must make them always, or we will go mad in a world that does not allow us to achieve the ideal. People who operate with a philosophy of close tolerances assure themselves and the world of the highest possible quality in whatever they produce.
People who condone a wider tolerance on occasion probably do so because they are trading some quality for reduced time or cost. They can never trade off all quality; the product would not be what it purports (validity) and may not even exist at all (existence).
Quality as fantasy bank
This level of abstraction of the concept of quality begins with the reality of “’If only…”
If only that long ball hadn’t been foul
If only the bases had been loaded when the homer was hit
If only we’d been in the last of the ninth inning when the grand slam was hit
If only it’d been the deciding game of the World Series when the grand-slam homer was hit in the last of the ninth
Do you see how we accumulate “if onlys” in our fantasy banks? Here are some more.
If only he were rich as well as handsome
If only he were handsome as well as rich
If only the price of steel were lower
If only there weren’t such high tariffs on imported woolen goods
The reason “if onlys” come so easily to mind is that we have so many in our fantasy banks.
Each concept of some ideal, from the perfect World Series game to the perfect mate, has a special deposit box in the fantasy bank. By the time we have much experience with a concept, our fantasy bank is full. Perhaps that is what experience gives us more than anything else— a more highly refined perception of an ideal.
When we have a full fantasy bank, we can better judge when circum¬stances are best for action.
He’s rich and fairly good looking. Guess I’ll marry him.
The price of steel is still going up but more slowly than before. Now is the time to build a supply for those cable orders we get in the winter.
Tariffs on woolens are being cut in half. Let’s go from 100% polyester to a mix in our fall line.
Let’s go back to the perception of ideal quality that our fantasy bank affords. We derive our ideals and standards of perfection from that perception, both as individuals and as generations. These ideals all come from amassing “if onlys.” And the combination of our “if onlys” deter¬mines our usual ideal of quality— a combination of attributes, things and circumstances that we wish existed but that rarely do.
Quality as intuition
Hon’s final level or most abstract sense of the concept of quality is intuition.
It is less easy for us to fathom our awareness of quality in our intuition. We do have intuitions about quality that are more often correct than deceived.
This awareness is like our sensory understanding of the slam of a car door. The door’s sound and weight and the pres¬sure we exert on the handle all contribute to our understanding of its secure closing. We can tell one slam from another and know a particular door’s quirks, without even knowing what stimuli we are taking in and processing.
It is astounding how our intuitions are very often right about quality. We process information so naturally— half-consciously— as we do when slamming a car door. Perhaps we have an internal handicapper sizing up the odds.
You know how handicappers work at the track. They assess the horse’s past performance, breeding, temperament, and then make the leap of the hunch on how the jockey, track conditions, and every other nuance of that particular race will interact— and come out with the odds. They make their living by those odds, not getting beaten by too much too often.
Deep inside us, we have an oddsmaker that processes millions of stimuli a day we’re not conscious of. That’s the slam of the car door we take for granted, the conclusion we reach faster and more accurately than any high-speed computer.
That oddsmaker is called intuition. When we free intuition to call our bets, unencumbered by our conscious mind, it is surprisingly successful.
Timothy Galwey’s books, The Inner Game of Tennis and The Inner Game of Golf, have called intuition the best playing mechanism for sports. And how many “gut feelings” in business really deter¬mine the outcome of a project? There may be more wisdom than self-indulgence in playing life this way.
Yet the battle in one’s mind is always on, between the oddsmaker’s hunch that “it feels right” and the analysis that says “it figures.” These two phrases aren’t formed in our language accidentally. Al¬though colloquial, they are more apt than even neurolinguists might suspect, because they represent our mind’s groping and bartering for top quality.
Robert Ornstein and other brain re¬searchers now say that our analytical processes (“it figures”) occur in the left side of the brain and that our intuitive processes (“it feels right”) occur in the right.
Before the results are in about where these processes are housed, we do know that we engage in both analytical and intuitive “thought.” Most of us experience some conflict between those analytical and intuitive thought processes, and from that conflict the brute question on your management style emerges: How much do you trust your logic, your pocket calculator, and your computer compared to that twinge in your insides— how much do you trust your handicapper?
In the final stanza of his discourse on quality, Hon suggests that it is the trade-offs of quality that “get us.”
The two most easily observed qualities we deal with daily are “quality of product” and “quality of life.” Our perceptions of those are formed at some level of the quality hierarchy.
Quality of product involves envisioning the quality of something one presents to the world. Since it is communication of one’s own self to the world, it cannot be and is not, taken lightly by most people. That’s what makes quality trade-offs in business so difficult. Both quality of life and quality of product reflect how things would ideally be, if only….
One might choose a job that allows many hours at home or one that includes extensive entertaining. In either case, quality can also indicate quality of life. Many who sought fame discovered that hey traded off privacy and anonymity, and had to re-examine what quality of life meant, just as e all have to decide what he quality angle in our trade-offs means to us.
Source : TRAINING Magazine