The Zen of Quality: Quality Thinking for Quality Results (part II)

A while back, I blogged on Quality as Excellent Design, arguing that Quality in products and processes is determined by the quality and kind of the thinking underlying the production of the products or processes – that is, Quality is dependent on the level of client focused attention to details and outcomes in the design of products and processes.

Recently, Learning and Organisational Development consultant Terrence Seamon blogged on the ‘Engine of Success’, suggesting that

. . . there is a cycle going on all the time, involving our thoughts, our actions, our results, and our relationships, that has been dubbed The Engine of Success:

– The Quality of Our Relationships has an impact on our thinking …
– The Quality of Our Thinking affects our choices …
– The Quality of Our Actions determines the outcomes we get …
– The Quality of Our Results affects our relationships … and the cycle continues.

. . . As the quality of relationships rises, the quality of thinking improves, leading to an increase in the quality of actions and results. Achieving high quality results has a positive effect on the quality of relationships, creating a reinforcing engine of success.

Those with a keen eye for Eastern Philosophy will immediately recognise parallels with the concept of karma. The concept of karma suggests that our thoughts and actions become institutionalised internally as habits and patterns of thinking and externally as relationships and in social form such as levels of goodwill towards oneself, which then colour our thinking and shape our future actions and interactions and ultimately impact on the the future relationships we create, with the cycle repeating and continuing.

Which, of course, is all grist to the mill when talking about the Zen of Quality. Robert Pirsig proposed in his classic philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that Quality is fundamentally and foremost a state of mind, bordering on a meditative state of being that Pirsig called ‘gumption’ where the person doing the work is absorbed and focused in the work. But for organisations, Pirsig’s sequel Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals is more relevant to the present discussion: Pirsig differentiated between dynamic and static Quality. Dynamic quality is what you experience when you are ‘in the zone’, the experience that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called flow in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Static Quality is what is created or habitualised following the peak experiences of flow and being in the zone.

For example, a computer programmer might be ‘in the zone’ programming all night: the dynamic Quality is the programming experience, the Static Quality is the resulting volume of well conceived and implemented code. Similarly for organisations: there needs to be dynamic customer focused Quality in customer work, followed by ‘static’ Quality products; within the organisation there needs to be dynamic Quality for reviewing the processes and procedures around quality, followed by high level static Quality processes and procedures. The challenge for an organisation is to consistently reach high levels of dynamic Quality to support ongoing Static quality.

A high quality individual, organisation or culture will have a high client focused level of interested attention to detail, and high quality products and processes will be outcomes of this Quality thinking.

So, what is needed for high quality work, products, and processes?

(i) a customer focused orientation on the customer context and what will deliver value for the customer
(ii) a design philosophy of iterating and testing products and processes against customer feedback
(iii) designing and institutionalising processes that institutionalise quality thinking
(iv) developing and institutionalising a quality culture and quality mindset

I have seen companies leave out steps (i), (ii) or (iv), and to pay ‘lip service’ to (iii) by taking other people’s quality processes out of the box and applying them without thinking about them. To achieve quality in your organisation, you have to do more than take quality processes out of the box – you have to ‘make them your own.’

Those are my thoughts. Please feel free to leave a comment!

One Response to The Zen of Quality: Quality Thinking for Quality Results (part II)
  1. Terrence Seamon
    March 18, 2007 | 4:21 PM

    Hi Lauchlan,

    Great post! I read Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance book many years ago and was deeply affected by it. I think it's time I re-read it.

    Thanks for mentioning me and my blog.

    I like and support your argument about true Quality. As someone once said, "What is Quality? The Customer decides."

    Best,

    Terry

The Zen of Quality: Quality Thinking for Quality Results (part II)

A while back, I blogged on Quality as Excellent Design, arguing that Quality in products and processes is determined by the quality and kind of the thinking underlying the production of the products or processes – that is, Quality is dependent on the level of client focused attention to details and outcomes in the design of products and processes.

Recently, Learning and Organisational Development consultant Terrence Seamon blogged on the ‘Engine of Success’, suggesting that

. . . there is a cycle going on all the time, involving our thoughts, our actions, our results, and our relationships, that has been dubbed The Engine of Success:

– The Quality of Our Relationships has an impact on our thinking …
– The Quality of Our Thinking affects our choices …
– The Quality of Our Actions determines the outcomes we get …
– The Quality of Our Results affects our relationships … and the cycle continues.

. . . As the quality of relationships rises, the quality of thinking improves, leading to an increase in the quality of actions and results. Achieving high quality results has a positive effect on the quality of relationships, creating a reinforcing engine of success.

Those with a keen eye for Eastern Philosophy will immediately recognise parallels with the concept of karma. The concept of karma suggests that our thoughts and actions become institutionalised internally as habits and patterns of thinking and externally as relationships and in social form such as levels of goodwill towards oneself, which then colour our thinking and shape our future actions and interactions and ultimately impact on the the future relationships we create, with the cycle repeating and continuing.

Which, of course, is all grist to the mill when talking about the Zen of Quality. Robert Pirsig proposed in his classic philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that Quality is fundamentally and foremost a state of mind, bordering on a meditative state of being that Pirsig called ‘gumption’ where the person doing the work is absorbed and focused in the work. But for organisations, Pirsig’s sequel Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals is more relevant to the present discussion: Pirsig differentiated between dynamic and static Quality. Dynamic quality is what you experience when you are ‘in the zone’, the experience that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called flow in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Static Quality is what is created or habitualised following the peak experiences of flow and being in the zone.

For example, a computer programmer might be ‘in the zone’ programming all night: the dynamic Quality is the programming experience, the Static Quality is the resulting volume of well conceived and implemented code. Similarly for organisations: there needs to be dynamic customer focused Quality in customer work, followed by ‘static’ Quality products; within the organisation there needs to be dynamic Quality for reviewing the processes and procedures around quality, followed by high level static Quality processes and procedures. The challenge for an organisation is to consistently reach high levels of dynamic Quality to support ongoing Static quality.

A high quality individual, organisation or culture will have a high client focused level of interested attention to detail, and high quality products and processes will be outcomes of this Quality thinking.

So, what is needed for high quality work, products, and processes?

(i) a customer focused orientation on the customer context and what will deliver value for the customer
(ii) a design philosophy of iterating and testing products and processes against customer feedback
(iii) designing and institutionalising processes that institutionalise quality thinking
(iv) developing and institutionalising a quality culture and quality mindset

I have seen companies leave out steps (i), (ii) or (iv), and to pay ‘lip service’ to (iii) by taking other people’s quality processes out of the box and applying them without thinking about them. To achieve quality in your organisation, you have to do more than take quality processes out of the box – you have to ‘make them your own.’

Those are my thoughts. Please feel free to leave a comment!

One Response to The Zen of Quality: Quality Thinking for Quality Results (part II)
  1. Terrence Seamon
    March 18, 2007 | 4:21 PM

    Hi Lauchlan,

    Great post! I read Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance book many years ago and was deeply affected by it. I think it's time I re-read it.

    Thanks for mentioning me and my blog.

    I like and support your argument about true Quality. As someone once said, "What is Quality? The Customer decides."

    Best,

    Terry