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Innovating Service With Chip Bell

Quality Insider

The Birth of Quality

Born from the influence of another

Published: Thursday, May 30, 2013 - 09:32

My granddaughter recently asked the inevitable birds-and-bees question: “I know a baby comes from inside the Mommy’s stomach, but how did the baby get there in the first place?” I deflected the question with, “That’s a great question. Why don’t you ask your mother?”

I was more than willing to answer her question, but a parent is better than a grandparent at this time. But her question got me thinking about birth—particularly the birth of quality.

Quality is an expression of worth. Quality is a grade or assessment of excellence. It is a trait or feature of an object (like a product) or an experience (like a service). We use dark-sounding words to describe low quality: shoddy, poor, inferior; and bright-sounding words to characterize high quality: superior, first-class, notable, or exceptional. We esteem everything of high quality as a model to emulate and celebrate. But where does it begin? How did it get there in the first place?

Quality almost always originates from, or is nurtured by, a mentor. They go by many labels—leader, coach, teacher, even parent. It is the influence from another that helps the seeker of great quality to recognize its significance and commit to its creation. Tom Hanks, in his Academy Award acceptance speech said, “I would not be standing here if it were not for Mr. Rawley Farnsworth, my high-school drama teacher, who taught me, ‘Act well the part, there all the glory lies.’”

According to biographer Walter Isaacson in Steve Jobs (Simon & Schuster, 2011), an early Apple engineer named Daniel Kottke gave Robert Friedland the glory for what Job’s labeled “reality distortion field.” Friedland was Jobs’ early mentor. “Friedland was charismatic and a bit of a con man and could bend situations to his very strong will,” said Kottke. “He was mercurial, sure of himself, a little dictatorial. Steve admired that, and he became more like that after spending time with Robert.”

That reality distortion field “was critical to Jobs’ single-minded focus and his success at revamping the personal computer, designing the iPhone, or making Pixar an animation powerhouse,” according to Wikipedia.

What do mentors in pursuit of quality do? They help people take the blinders off of blind obedience and the timid restraint out of boldness. Quality-seeking mentors ask thoughtful questions instead of making directive statements. They recognize that true learning is a door opened only from the inside. That “I am in charge of my own learning” belief matures the mentor-learner relationship to a learning partnership. Learners become confident enough to be humble, open enough to be accepting, and curious enough to become wise.

Quality-seeking mentors demonstrate confidence-building acceptance by avoiding testy tones, judgmental gestures, and parental positions. They show acceptance through focused and dramatic listening: When their learner needs them to listen, they pretend they are at a raffle for a big prize and are waiting to hear the winning number. They encourage inventiveness and experimentation—a springboard to insight and a foundation of acumen.

“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking,” said Henry Ford. It was a perspective Ford learned from his mentor, Thomas Edison.

A. G. Lafley, chairman and CEO of Procter and Gamble, was told by his mentor, Bob McDonald, “Have the courage to stick with a tough job.”

Quality is no doubt the offspring of many influences. But its DNA is fashioned through the tutelage and support of a caring mentor.


About The Author

Innovating Service With Chip Bell’s picture

Innovating Service With Chip Bell

Chip Bell has helped companies dramatically enhance their bottom lines and marketplace reputation through innovative customer-centric strategies. For the sixth year in a row, Global Gurus in 2020 ranked Bell as one of the top three keynote speakers in the world on customer service. Bell has authored 24 books; seven are international best sellers. His latest book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions (Berrett-Koehler, 2020), shows how co-creation partnerships enable you to tap into the treasure trove of ideas, ingenuity, and genius-in-the-raw within every customer.