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Fred L. Eargle

Quality Insider

I’m Thinking Quality

Way too much

Published: Monday, September 17, 2007 - 22:00

It probably started when my favorite diner served my coffee cold three visits in a row. “Why can’t I get a hot cup of coffee?” I thought. “This is the Quality Diner.” After all, I always left a nice tip. In fact, I had become so accustomed to leaving the suggested tip, that I didn’t connect it with good service. My bad.

That event must have scrambled the synapses in my brain. Suddenly, I could not get quality off my mind. One quality thought led to another, and soon I realized I might be acting strangely to other people. So, I tried hiding my quality thoughts from others, but that only worked for a short time. I even had quality dreams.

At first, I applied my quality thoughts only at work. I asked my supervisor, “Why do we make six copies of the daily absentee report when only two are required? and “Why do we enter the date three times on an order form?” He didn’t have a satisfactory answer.

After a week of this, he suggested I spend more time concentrating on just doing my own work, and let the rest of the organization do theirs. I finally got a reason from one of the old-timers—“because we’ve always done it that way.” That did make some distorted sense, but it didn’t satisfy my appetite for quality.

Soon, others began to notice. At lunch, I disassembled my sandwich and inspected all its ingredients. I thought the small thermometer I purchased for checking the temperature of my beverage would go unnoticed. My closest friends didn’t mention it, but I could tell they were concerned. There were sordid jokes about the thermometer.

All this time I had been successful in keeping my affliction separate from my home life. One evening during dinner, I could contain myself no longer and asked my wife why her green peas were always watery. I slept on the couch that night. And the next.

She suggested (insisted is a better word) that I seek counseling, but I wasn’t about to put myself in the care of an ordinary counselor. Mine had to be internationally recognized. (I later found that my company health insurance policy specifically excludes psychiatric problems concerning quality issues.)

My children were making A’s and B’s in school. I insisted that they make A+’s.

Quality was wrecking my life. My wife hated me (more couch time), and my children were stressed out trying to improve their grades. But this meant nothing to me. When I requested $10 worth of gasoline, why did the attendant give me $9.98 worth? Was there something about my car that was quality deficient or was it me? Why couldn’t he have given me a quality fill-up of, say, $10.20? I would have been glad to pay the difference.

It was especially maddening to shop in the supermarket. Apples were $8 a basket, but some baskets had more apples than others. I measured a random sample of apple baskets and found the volume varied by +/– 15.625 cubic inches. That’s approximately the volume of one apple. Some apples had blemishes. What did that mean in terms of quality? And bananas! How many brown spots can they have before that becomes a quality problem? I tried constructing an attribute chart but drew no conclusions. Some things are just best left unmeasured, I suppose.

I subscribed to Quality Digest and hid it in the bathroom under my other reading material, but wife found it and threatened to leave me. She claimed “quality” was my version of pornography. I tried convincing her we had a “quality” marriage. I shouldn’t have used that word.

It was clear. I was hooked on quality. I needed help, but where could I turn? Nobody, not even my wife, understood me. My children were avoiding me.

I took to wandering the streets. I would stop and read the menu’s posted on eating places looking for makaroni, baked potatos, katchup, stake, livver, etc. I’d telephone businesses and ask for something outrageous to see how they would handle it. In conversation, I would correct every mispronounced word and incomplete sentence. Split infinitives and incorrect tenses were especially upsetting, and I demanded immediate correction.

I took to going to the library. My family and friends thought this admirable until they found out I was reading Implementing TQM by Joseph R. Jablonski, Phil Crosby’s Quality Without Tears and Quality Is Free, the Baldrige criteria, and ISO 9001. I was on a waiting list for Shingo and Taguchi. I read everything that Denise Robitaille, Joseph Juran, and Feigenbaum ever wrote. Deming was my hero, and I even had his picture on my desk and in my wallet, replacing my wife’s photo.

I was on everyone’s mailing list—ASQ, American Quality Foundation, IIE, IAQC, IQA, etc. I downloaded webinars from Paton Professional and viewed them after the household was asleep.

I amassed a large, expensive collection of quality books and memorabilia. There were autographs from the aristocracy of quality, and a slide rule said to have belonged to W. A. Shewhart. It was wonderful and frustrating.

But deep down in my psyche I knew it couldn’t last. The high was becoming more unattainable. My life was becoming more miserable. I was missing work (the library). Then one of my children brought me a flier—“Friend, is quality ruining your life? All are welcome at your local Quality Anonymous meeting.” I was at rock bottom.

I had put my family, friends, and colleagues through quality hell. I’m now a recovering quality addict, and quality means absolutely nothing to me anymore. I endure cold coffee, tough steaks, poor table service, business associates who don’t return calls, plumbers who are late, incorrect billing, misspelled words, and rude sales people just like any normal person. My company has just started Continuous Improvement Teams, but I don’t participate. I’ve progressed beyond that.

I’m so glad I got quality out of my life. My children are now making C’s and have hours each day for unsupervised, unquality activities such as My Space, YouTube, Devils and Demons, blogs, etc., like normal children. I hope my affliction isn’t tied up in some way with my genes. I would hate for my children and grandchildren to obsess about quality as I once did.

Life is much easier now. My wife’s watery peas are delicious, and I’m off the couch. I continue to see my counselor once a week, just in case, you know. And, I look forward to weekly QA meetings.

My children still expect to win at school sports, but I’m working on that with their coaches. Do you think they might grow up expecting the world to change somehow and provide universal quality service? I hope not. Maybe I’ll write my congressman and insist that standards and expectations be lowered in government. We can start with our schools.


About The Author

Fred L. Eargle’s default image

Fred L. Eargle

Fred L. Eargle has more than 30 years of experience conducting workshops and consulting on many topics, including performance appraisal, job evaluation, lean manufacturing, and counseling techniques. He has written numerous handbooks, manuals, and technical reports, as well as a book on pneumatics. He was on the faculty of North Carolina State University for 34 years and played a major role in the development of the North Carolina Quality Leadership Award.