Last week I went to a crafts fair held in our local high school's parking lot. My wife, Marguerite, and I wandered around the booths admiring the butterflies made out of clothespins, snowmen made out of marshmallows and straight pins, and doll clothes hanging neatly on little metal hangers. But what impressed me most were the quality craftspeople themselves sitting close to their creations. When we'd stop to look at an object, a smiling artisan quickly would greet us, eager to show how the item worked or explain how it was made.
I realized that they weren't as interested in selling the object as they were having us appreciate the skill and creativity that went into its crafting. Some of the craftspeople almost seemed reluctant to sell what they were exhibiting.
Recently, we had the opportunity to work with a dedicated craftsman when we decided to have two stained-glass windows designed and installed in our entranceway. After looking in many stores specializing in this art, we selected an artisan named John Joy, who runs a one-man customized window business out of his garage. We found John not from a big ad in the Yellow Pages or a billboard but by driving past a house and admiring a window he'd created.
We called John to set up an appointment. He insisted that he come to our house so that he could get a feel for the environment the windows would be in, and he requested that both Marguerite and I be present. At the appointed time, John's truck rolled up and the interview began. I had the distinct feeling that he was interviewing us more than we him.
After showing us pictures of his work and discussing at length what we'd like, John started sketching potential designs. Did we want cut glass that would create a rainbow of light dancing on the opposite wall, or did we want artistic floral patterns? He explained the advantages of selecting colors to blend with the stone fireplace vs. the entranceway tile. Did we want a window that is active or serene?
As John talked, his pencil quickly created alternative designs. Out of his briefcase came pieces of brightly colored glass and some with subdued colors; we also looked at frosted glass and pieces with smoothly flowing textures, stripes or random colors flowing through them. John displayed these in numerous combinations, all of which looked good to Marguerite and me.
After about two hours, Marguerite and I picked out three designs we liked. John said he'd like to make the windows for us, but he didn't think we knew exactly what we wanted. He suggested that we look over his sketches and the glass samples for a week or two before we made up our minds, and then give him another call if we wanted him to design the windows. (Wow! This is a different breed of salesman, one who doesn't want to take your order.)
John was right. We combined two of his designs into something we liked better and then called him and asked him to go ahead with the new design. We met with John five times before the job was completed.
John is a craftsman. He cares about his work and wants it to go far beyond meeting requirements. He works with his clients to improve upon their requirements; his designs must reflect not only his but the clients' personalities. It isn't enough for him to find brown glass with white ribbons running through it; it must be just the right size ribbons running at the perfect angle. If his wholesaler's stock doesn't look good to John, he'll wait and look through the next shipment until he finds exactly the right texture.
John Joy and the craftspeople in the school parking lot aren't rich, but they're happy, proud and fulfilled in their work. Wouldn't it be great if we were all infected with the same degree of pride in our work? Think how different a trip to a 7-Eleven would be, how effectively each personnel department would operate, how much better new designs would look, how much more a sales force would sell.
Artisanship isn't dead. It continues to thrive in our parking lots and garages. If it can exist there, why can't it exist in our offices, stores, hotels, restaurants and airplanes? It can if we take what we do personally and stop focusing on our jobs' negative aspects. Instead, we should realize how fortunate we are to have jobs and autograph all our efforts as examples of our personal best.
About the author
H. James Harrington is a principal at Ernst & Young and serves as their international quality advisor. He has more than 45 years' experience as a quality professional and is the author of 12 books. Harrington is a past president and chairman of the board of both the American Society for Quality and the International Academy for Quality.
Harrington can be reached at 55 Almaden Blvd., San Jose, CA 95113; telephone (408) 947-6587, fax (408) 947-4971, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site address is www.hjharrington.com.