Purposeful Action Assures Quality

The following article is excerpted from a lecture by Prem Chopra at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga in September 2006. The text of the entire lecture can be found in Masters of the Game: Reaching Beyond the Nexus to Success and Happiness.

What is Purposeful Action?

To explain the framework for purposeful action, we must first define what we mean by “purposeful.” Basically, purposeful is something with a positive intent that contributes to other individuals, entities, or to society. With purposeful action we should add more value and not take away more as a result of that action. This is an ethical issue that cannot be divorced from action. Purpose implies good or ethical behavior. It is giving, not taking. The more value you give, the more you grow and succeed by producing something of value. 

For example, let us compare Sony’s Play-Station with Microsoft’s X Box. Which one gets a larger share of the market? Is it the one with the lowest price? Or, is it the one with the best features, functionality, and reliability?

Let’s take another example of the impact of quality and value in this country. Consider the automobile industry. There’s a book by Halbersham, The Reckoning, that discusses the competition some years ago between Ford and Nissan—both companies manufacture cars and small trucks. The book is written as if Nissan and Ford were individuals. The author shows how and why one company declines as the other flourishes. And, what do you think the main reason was? What do you think the main difference is between General Motors and Toyota? The big difference is commitment to quality and value. Why do you think people buy Toyota cars? Is it because they cost more? Or, is it because they give more?

We will explore the answers to such questions in the context of the Framework for Purposeful Action in today’s discussion. We also will see how this framework can guide you to a more fulfilling personal and professional life.

The Quality Guru from an Iowa Farm

Some of you might have heard about William Edwards Deming—the quality control Guru from an Iowa farm. At first, no one in this country listened to him. General Motors would not give him the time of day. Did they feel that his teaching threatened their business practices and the lavish lifestyles of GM executives? They were busy golfing and socializing in their country clubs. Back in the 50’s and 60’s, some of the most lucrative jobs, for the brightest graduates, were to be found at General Motors. So, they had no use for Deming and his ideas about quality. Do you know what happened to Deming? He went to Japan.

The Japanese listened to him with an open mind, and they learned from him. Deming’s quality is a major force behind the high quality and performance standards we have come to expect from Japanese companies. In 1951, the Japanese Union of Scientists developed the Deming Award for Quality. They honored the man, because they understood the value of what he was teaching—and they applied it!

So what were we doing in the United States? Well, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors continued to build the cars they believed people wanted, and the kind of cars their MBA trained marketing and product management executives told them would maximize sales and profits. As a result, they continued to lose market share to the Japanese and European manufacturers, until one of them had to be bailed out by the U.S. taxpayer. Some 37 years after the Japanese had established the Deming Award for Quality, the U.S. Institute of Standards and Technology introduced the Baldridge Award for Performance Excellence. You might be tempted to say, “Better late than never,” but what happened to the automobile industry in the meantime? Well, you figure it out–Toyota is the largest automobile manufacturer in the world today.

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