On quality, business, sport and the arts

By Grant Hall, Senior Consultant

Sport and the arts are both part of what we call “culture”.

Business, sport and the arts have a lot to learn from each other.

You might think that the three separate realms are completely different.

I have many friends who like football and many friends who like the theatre – mostly they are different groups of friends.  The people I go to the football with generally aren’t the same people I go to the theatre with.

However, the aspects that I find enjoyable about business, sport and the arts are much the same.

Practitioners in all three fields are striving for the same thing; quality.

I have read Robert M. Pirsig’s novels, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenanceand Lila countless times.  In these books Pirsig threads philosophical viewpoints through semi-autobiographical stories.  Pirsig’s writings investigate the concept of quality – addressing questions like what is qualityand how do we know it when we see it?

Much of the philosophical side of Pirsig’s writings are complicated; some years ago I spent many months obsessively trying to better understand what he was on about.

Although Pirsig cautions against trying to define it, from his writings I concluded the following definition of quality:

Quality is the opposite of wastage

It’s a definition that works for me in a practical sense and helps me to put things into perspective.

Consider this definition of quality being the opposite of wastage in a business sense.  A high quality business operation has minimal waste; resources are optimally utilised to achieve the business objective.  In a quality business, employees aren’t sitting around doing nothing or undertaking tasks that aren’t assisting in achieving the objectives of the business and likewise, money isn’t wasted on items that don’t assist in the achievement of business objectives.

Think about this idea of quality in terms of sports.  Sporting teams also have objectives and usually that objective is to win.  Like a business, a football team deploys it’s assets to achieve objectives.  The highest quality football teams use their resources in the most efficient (or least wasteful) way possible.  We often hear of contestants or teams described as ‘quality’ or as being ‘businesslike’.  Efficiency is a statistic used in many sporting competitions – the efficiency statistic is a measure of quality.

Think about this idea of quality vs wastage in terms of the arts.  Think about the really great works of art; Beethoven’s Fifth, the Mona Lisa – what would you add or take away or change to improve these works?  Nothing!  That is because the artist has utilised the available resources (mainly their own mental and creative capacities) in such a way that there is no wastage.  Take for example F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, which is often described as ‘efficiently written’ – every character adds value to the plot, every chapter is necessary – there’s nothing you can cull!

This is why the arts and sport are so important in a child’s education – it’s where they can see and experience and get to know quality and learn how to build quality for themselves.

Well, that’s how I see the world anyway.  My decision making is guided by this concept of quality vs. wastage.  I hope that gives you some understanding about how I approach my work.

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