Two Birds, One Stone… Some Quality Inspiration & Lessons From Steve Jobs

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Yeah, so I had two posts that I was itching to write today.  I knew the latest View from the Q posted and had something to do with finding inspiration in quality leaders.  Then, I wanted to give some props to a local stamping manufacturer, its leadership and interns after touring the facility again several months after a change of leadership shifted and rekindled improvement efforts.  Who knew the two posts would collide into one?

The connection with my experience today with the interns was that they inspired me with their enthusiasm for quality and pride in what they had accomplished.  There’s this percentage of people that just dive into things and get passionate about stuff. They see things intuitively focused on improvement and delight in creating efficiency, see opportunities in all things and go the extra mile to both learn and do. And, props to any organization that utilizes and supports these folks. I saw first hand what a win-win this opportunity creates. The View from the Q post also made me think of today’s facility tour as it relates to the focus on worker safety, involvement and respect that was referenced within a discussion by Paul O’Neill, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Experiences like this inspire me.

Getting to that ASQ post, Bill Troy is asking the quality community this month about having met someone whose teachings on quality influenced us.  And, my first response is that I absolutely must reference a recent Quality Digest article by Jeff Dewer related to this topic that is most excellent.  I’ve been thinking about this ever since. It was serendipitous to see the related ASQ post.

So, here it is… Steve Jobs is my biggest influence where quality is concerned.  Big surprise?! While I officially never “met” Steve, he does feel like an old friend having read through far too many books/articles/interviews and investing significant time into watching keynotes over the years.  The teachings are real.

The top five lessons I’d say have inspired me most include:

  • The quality of your work reflects who you are. Quality comes from within.
    • There’s a story about Jobs helping his dad with some kitchen cabinets. He mentions the moment his father scolds him for not putting equal quality into the back even though it could not be seen. He was influenced by and encouraged others to see that quality isn’t something that’s just cosmetic. The quality of your work in everything you do reflects who you are. It doesn’t matter if it’s seen or not.  You’ll know!
  • Never compromise on quality. 
    • Steve Jobs would not release products until they met or exceeded his expectations. There are stories of him throwing out months of R&D efforts to simplify or otherwise make something better. The Toy Story debacle is just one such story that really sets the tone.
  • Teams (and partners) are critical for success.  He demanded the best.
    • We are quick to talk about how amazing Steve Jobs was, but his role was really the visionary of it all.  Even he knew other people were better at the various components of his ideas/plans. He surrounded himself with people who were the best at what they did.  One could even say he drove them to be better than they thought they could be. This extended beyond his immediate team as well. Just think about Wendell Weeks when Jobs reached out to Corning for Gorilla Glass.  What Weeks thought would be impossible heeded to Jobs’ advice of “Don’t be afraid. You can do this.” And, they did.
  • Change is good. Adapting is required.  Anticipating is where it’s at.
    • Innovation and change were second nature to Jobs, and he had this special way of leading people to trust his direction. This is where I have people start declaring that Apple never innovated anything and that they only copied technology.  My most polite and brief reply to that is that it doesn’t matter who does it first. It’s who does it best that succeeds.
  • Quality of life matters.
    • My man Steve believed in quality of life. From trips of enlightenment to India to regular meditation and appreciation for nature, the guy notorious for being rigid and unconforming also had a profound understanding that quality comes from within and reflects our lives.

Direct quotes we all know and love include:

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

“Quality is much better than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.”

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”

“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.”

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