Quality: the lost concept of the 20th century

Good service providers are hard to find: tradesmen, shop assistants, professionals. You pass them on to friends like some priceless artifact. The good ones stand out not because they are brilliant but just because they do the job right. They don't screw up.

This is rare at the turn of the millenium. Once it was considered the minimum level of service; now it is a marvel to be treasured.

I went to the store. I found what I wanted. I showed it to him. I pointed out it was solid, no gaps. He wrote down the SKU. He looked it up on the computer. They had no stock so he would order them. The delivery arrived on the truck. It was the wrong ones: they had gaps. The invoice showed they had been fulfilled from stock. I went to see him. he saw immediately the mistake and promised to change them. This seemed a routine process. There was no apology.

I chose the door fittings. I bought brass. I gave them to the builder. He bought the hinges: he got steel.

I asked the electrician to put an outside light on the wall. Now the window won't open because the light is in the way.

I chose the front door. The door man came out to see where it would go - inside the porch. The builder took delivery and installed it. i got home and asked why they had put in a door with a doorstep when it was an interior door. "That's what you ordered".

We pulled a ceiling out. Half the nails on the new steel roof had been driven into empty space. Their lunch scraps were on top of the ceiling.

Some of these people are stupid. Each recent generation is more stupid than the last as media and bad food renders their brains into pap.

But more often they just don't care. The Twentieth Century abandoned quality as a concept. For a definition of what i mean by "quality" read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance... twice.

"Good" was not defined by quality:

  • pop art
  • bauhaus
  • disposability and built-in obsolescence
  • the rise of plastics
  • punk rock
  • universal "fairness" (equality of outcome instead of equality of opportunity)
  • post-modernism
  • cost cutting and shareholder value
  • fast food and convenience food
  • Disneyland
  • B grade movies
  • the sound-bite as politics
  • blogging

...the list is endless.

Quality was no longer a factor: people judged on price, novelty, fun, convenience, political correctness, deliberate rejection of traditional values. Along with quality we lost the related values of honesty and reality. Most Americans don't even know what is real any more, and the rest of the Western world is only one turn behind on the downward spiral.

As I recall (though I cannot find it) Tom Wolfe predicted we would rediscover an appreciation of quality in this century. Let us hope so.