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« Best new way to make an internal sale | Main | The art and skill of working with bureaucrats »

Quality, scale and the regular kind

When we talk about quality, it's easy to get confused.

That's because there are two kinds of quality being discussed. The most common way it's talked about in business is "meeting specifications." An item has quality if it's built the way it was designed to be built.

There's another sort of quality, though. This is the quality of, "is it worth doing?". The quality of specialness and humanity, of passion and remarkability.

Hence the conflict. The first sort of quality is easy to mandate, reasonably easy to scale and it fits into a spreadsheet very nicely. I wonder if we're getting past that.

Consider two eggs:

If I go the local diner, I can get a high quality diner egg, over easy. The egg is a standard manufactured egg, created in quantity by drugged chickens in prison. It retails (raw) for about 14 cents. The egg is cooked on a griddle the way it always is, a grill neither spotless nor filthy, covered with a sheen of slightly old oil. It's cooked on one side until set, flipped for a few seconds, put on a plate, given a shake of iodized salt and served, usually with a piece of generic white bread toast.

This is the regular kind. The kind most people grew up with. Easy to produce on demand, reliable and expected.

If I make an egg at home, I'll use a free range egg from the farmer's market, which I'll happily pay 39 cents for. This egg tastes like an egg, and the extra money pays for a local farmer and a (slightly) happier chicken. I'd cook it in a very hot cast iron skillet with really tasty olive oil, and I'd leave it in longer until it gets crisp around the edges, then I'd put some David's salt on it (which, due to its pointy edges, in fact does taste better). All told, it costs about thirty one cents more altogether.

This is the undependable kind. You might not be able to get the eggs. Cleaning the pan is more work too. But this is a remarkable egg, an egg worth talking about, an egg worth crossing the street for, an egg worth writing about.

If you can do this to an egg for thirty cents, imagine what happens when you bring the same approach to quality to your job.

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