Knowledge and skill bring efficiency and innovation brings creativity to professional work. But excellence comes from quality and the human touch. This article examines the concept and practice of quality in a deeper, multidimensional perspective.
Dimensions of quality; technical dimension; touch of beauty; human dimension; customer imperatives; workplace wellness; larger community.
Dimensions of Quality
The concept of quality can be looked at various angles and defined in many ways. For example, there is the well-known concept of Total Quality Management. However for the present theme of our discussion we may view the concept of quality in terms of three dimensions: technical, aesthetic and human.
The technical quality may be conceived in terms of reliability, durability and other technical features of the product or process. For example, some of the home appliances like fan or mixies, which were produced during the 1970s or 80s, had a sturdiness and durability, which we were not able to find in the same products we see in the present market. On the other hand the latest trends in manufacturing technology with techniques like Computer Aided Manufacturing and lean manufacturing display a much greater technical sophistication than the manufacturing techniques of the 70s or 80s.
Touch of Beauty
The second aspect of quality is aesthetics, which is acquiring an increasing recognition and importance in the present highly competitive corporate environment. There is a perceptible improvement in the aesthetic quality of the external appearance of products like for example in cars and computers. But in an integral perspective aesthetics is much more than mere product design or packaging. Aesthetics means creating beauty and harmony in every activity of human life.
In the corporate world it means beautiful and harmonious equipment and ordering of the material and economic environment of the organization. For example, in engineering, technology and production, it means to perform every activity from procurement of material, plant layout, engineering, design, manufacturing, maintenance or erection and commissioning to product design and packaging, with a sense of beauty and harmony. When things are organized and the activities are done with this total aesthetic sense and vision, it creates an aura of subtle beauty in the organization and around the product or service, which has a special attraction for the customer. These are deeper and invisible factors which the ancient wisdom recognised but the modern scientific mind refuses to accept. The scientific mind demands empirical proof. But those things which are beyond the discernible range of senses and the intellect cannot be proved by empirical data.
The Human Dimension
The third aspect of quality is human satisfaction or in other words, the extent to which a product, process or service satisfies human needs. Every professional has to ultimately serve human needs. In our modern corporate environment, the most crucial human groups are the Customer, Employee and the Community.
The technical expert, genius, or idealist seeks technical perfection for its own sake. But in the corporate world, technical perfection which the customer doesn’t want, or willing to pay, will end in commercial failure. There are many such products in the corporate world, which are technical marvels in innovation, design or features but bombed in the market because customer did not want it or willing to pay the price. A classic example is the Polaroid camera, which gave instant photo prints.
It is a technically superb product, which if it has gained the acceptance of the mass-market, would have made the photo-studio obsolete. But ultimately it failed in the market with the advent of the digital camera. The customer seems to be not interested or eager to have an instant photo print or ready to pay a costly price for a complex and cumbersome camera. She is happy and satisfied with seeing her digital image in a simple and compact camera and ready to wait for the print!
Here is another example from one of the most customer-focused companies: Dell Computers. Dell introduced a series of high-tech products, which failed in the market. Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers describing the cause of failure said “we had gone ahead and created a product that was technology for technology’s sake rather than technology for the customer sake. If we had consulted about what they needed… we could have saved ourselves lot of aggravation.” Learning from this mistake, in Dell Computers, technical staffs are trained to “think beyond technology and in terms of what people want.” So the corporate technocrat must understand the actual needs and expectation of the customer, the price she is willing to pay for it and reverse engineer the product or service, tailoring it to customer needs.
The second human group is the employees. In this domain the great professional challenge is twofold: first is to progressively fulfill the evolving human needs and to enhance human well-being in all the dimensions of human organism – physical, emotional, mental, moral and spiritual. In corporate world, the primary drive is towards enhancing human performance or productivity. But what is not fully recognised is that human performance can not be sustained without sustainable human well-being. If the relentless drive for performance leads to stressed-out, unhealthy and unhappy employees, it will ultimately have an adverse impact not only on productivity but also the inner quality of the product. Here is a similar phenomenon which we have mentioned briefly while discussing the aesthetic dimension.
It is the relation between Mind and Matter. As Sri Aurobindo states ‘Mind overflowed into the inanimate.’ This is not an unscientific idea. Our mind or psyche, like Matter, is also a form of energy. The eminent psychologist Carl Jung, talks about psychic energy and calls it as ‘Anima’. This mental or psychic energy is more subtle and pervasive than the physical energies of our body and therefore it can overflow into the surrounding environment; it can penetrate, envelop and pervade the material objects in the environment. When the mental or psychic energies of people who make the product are full of well-being and joy, then the product will also carry this vibration of joy which will communicate itself to the customer. Thus a creation, product or service, which proceeds from an individual and collective consciousness of wholesome well-being, has an invisible quality or attraction, which a similar product or service created out of stress, tension and anxiety lacks.
In the future of business and management, it is this invisible factor which will determine more and more the customer pull and satisfaction. For when the technological and managerial competencies are more and more generalized and the outer differentiation between the products and services of firms become more and more minimal, it is the invisible psychological factors which will determine the customer choices. Interestingly, Tom Peters made the following significant remark on quality ‘Quality is practical. But it is also moral and aesthetic’, and quotes marketing expert, Philip Kotler as telling it is the ‘delight factor’. If people who make a product or give the service has this delight factor within them it will flow into the product or service suffusing it with a subtle and intangible beauty or attraction for the customer. So, human well-being has to be included as an integral part or index of Total Quality or the quality of the corporate life.
The Larger Community
The other important human group is the people in the community in which the company is situated. At present the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is gaining increasing recognition in corporate circles. This concept of CSR demands that corporate world must include the community as an important stakeholder of the company. So it is not enough to focus on customer needs and employee well-being. The products and services of the company must lead to ecological and human well-being in the surrounding community or at the least should not damage societal well-being. The professional manager or technocrate who frames the technological and organizational policies and strategies of a company must give conscious consideration to this value of societal and human well-being. Similarly in community development, the development engineer has to carefully study the concept of Appropriate Technology propounded by Swedish economist E.F. Schumacher. According to this philosophy, the design and choice of technology have to be tailored to the unique economic, ecological, social and cultural needs, values and life-styles of the community. And the manager or administrator involved in community development or CSR projects has to do a similar type of adaptation in his strategies.
However, humanism, to reach its highest creative potential, has to progress further from the scientific, technical and pragmatic level towards the emotional and spiritual, flowing out with universal love and compassion for all humanity. The great scientist Albert Einstein constantly emphasized this human factor in many of his writing and talks. In one of his talks Einstein said to students of science, that the aim of all science and technology is to care for human well-being, never forget it amidst your equations and gadget.
The author is a student and practitioner in the path of integral yoga.