My wife Margaret and I were in a large office supply company this week looking for a good quality folder. Something special for a presentation to a client. As we looked up and down the rows of folders we came to the realisation that everything we could see was of the lowest possible quality at the lowest possible prices. And as we searched, I became a little despondent, finally realising that our quest was going to be in vain. The only quality on offer was “cheap” and “a little less cheap”. And I realised it’s a sign of an attitude that has swept much of Australia, and probably many other parts of the world.
To me it feels like a dangerous attitude. I worry that it spells a decline of much more than the quality of our stationary supplies. That it’s a waning of our desire for things that are properly and beautifully made on the false premise of getting more value for our dollar. But if more value for our dollar is actually shorthand for badly designed cheaply made items that last less and do less, and then need replacing far more often, surely it’s false economy.
What has happened to us? Have we all fallen prey to the lure of short term value? We all know how much an hour we earn. So let’s think for a moment. How many hours does it take to make even a simple thing well? 10 hours? 20? How much does 20 hours of skilled labour cost? Let’s assume a very low hard cost $30 to $40.00 per hour. Add in some overheads for a workshop, equipment, electricity, insurance, etc brings it to $150 + per hour. Add in some money for materials… So why do we expect to pay $7.99 for it? It’s impossible to create quality for pennies. So there is going to be a trade-off. Cheap in cost almost always equals cheap in quality.
I think this attitude of “cheap” has permeated much of Australia and indeed much of the world. It is popping up in lots of places. And perhaps it has to do with our priorities. In days past, family and work were a big focus for people. Families were enjoyed and nurtured. Having a job was a privilege, and energy and thought were expended in return for pay and hard won valuable experience. Excellence was pursued with passion.
Today I see a massive change in our focus towards leisure. Wine and spirits, restaurants and coffee shops, big screen TVs and other new toys are consuming our attention. And we want them now. No delayed gratification for us. To afford these we often need to cut back on costs. And so we look for ever cheaper items, not understanding the false economy of something for $7.99 that will last for three uses. It’s worse than that. I am seeing a drop in understanding and appreciation of fine art and in every society that has lost their fine art there has been a catastrophic decline in that society.
But we can change this. I’d love you to start thinking about this. To think about quality. To become fascinated with the passionate pursuit of excellence. To look for it when you are out and about. I’d love you to become a student of how things are made. To discover fine craftsmanship and to meet and understand the passion of the craftsmen or women who’ve spent their lifetime learning and perfecting their craft, so that people with an appreciation for passion and excellence can own and enjoy it.
I love that word passion. It’s something very special.
Recently someone asked me “So how do you develop passion?”
…I think it’s a bit like one of Harrison Ford’s lines from the movie “Six Day Seven Nights”. The band is playing a catchy island sounding swing beat with a gravelly voice guitar player singing to the very relaxed bar full of guests. Ford’s character is the island’s seaplane pilot, and has definitely had too much to drink. We hear him drunkenly explaining to his co-star Anne Heche about all the people who come to the island looking for “The Magic… for romance, when they can’t find it any other place”.
She says to him “Maybe they will find it here” and he replies in his best gravelly drunk voice
“It’s an island babe… if you don’t bring it …you won’t find it”.
Passion is something you have to bring. You have to develop it over time. And often it is developed at great personal cost.
As I write this, it has been 38 years since Margaret & I started this crazy business. 38 years is long time to maintain a burning passion for excellence. And I promise you, there have been and there still are so many opportunities to quit. So many times when it’s just all too hard. When there’s just no way forward and no options left to try. But, a long time ago a mentor said to me, “if you will just refuse to quit eventually you’ll win. If you won’t give up, if you simply refuse to be beaten, then something else will give way and you will win”.
Winning takes more than just a small effort. Winning takes a super human effort. It takes an Olympic gold medal winning effort. It means turning up when you are sick. It means keeping going when you are tired. It means sometimes you will work 24 or 36 hours straight to get a critical deal across the line. It means keeping on believing in your dream when most of the people around you tell you that you are living a fantasy…. That what you are doing will never work.
To lead and change the world you have to have ideas that the world had never thought of. Ideas that are so different that most people cannot even conceive of them being possible. If you do what is popular, you are competing with all the other popular ideas and you’ll get lost in the crowd.
At Boucher & Co, when we design and make a piece of mechanical furniture or the Shagreen interior for a new Rolls-Royce, it is with the great great grandchildren of our clients in mind. Will it still be so beautiful and amazing and inspiring to them in a hundred years’ time? In our workshop we need to work at the most extreme levels of excellence all the time. The results are amazing. But to achieve this you have to persist. You have to dream huge dreams. You have to do the impossible.
But I want you to know that you have a massive advantage.
You see, no one else thinks like you do.
No one else solves problems like you do. You are incredibly special, incredibly valuable.
Just think! What if all your passion and hard work and determination finally pay off, and your dreams really do come true?
If you just refuse to quit, you can change your life and your family’s lives forever.
Let me encourage you. Pursue excellence and Refuse to Quit.
It’s just so worth it.