We are not machines and we are not meant to be. If we hold ourselves to that standard of performance, all of us are failures.

Valuing Speed Over Quality

May 14, 2015
While we may admire good judgment, it seems that most of us would like to avoid making difficult decisions. Taking time to get something right Talent derives from effort, judgment Productivity gains redefine "performance"

Although I’ve been told that certain writers and speakers are able distill a clear and memorable column or speech ‘on the fly’, without pausing to consider the proper words or tone, with punctuation in place and all the facts reliably verified – I doubt it. My own experience shows me that there is simply too much inconsistency in human nature for the mind to collect, evaluate, and report a clear message on a complex subject without some challenge.

Certainly some minds are better than others, and many are better than I am at delivering their insights. And, of course, there are some rare ideas that are so singularly clear, or so common, that very little analysis is needed. But these are exceptions. In general, it takes time to get something done right.

This conclusion is itself fairly obvious, it seems to me: it’s the reason that “good judgment” is upheld as an admirable character trait across all types of professions and occupations. Teachers, doctors, attorneys, finance and industrial executives — we reserve the highest praise for the ones who establish a record of good judgment in resolving the various dilemmas that their work presents.

Even in cases where we praise “talent” rather than judgment — e.g., art, athletics, or politics — there is an undeniable element of good judgment at work by the most accomplished individuals, as in the “eye” of a photographer who captures an image with color, tone, perspective, and timing. Or a champion golfer who can size up the lie of the ball, the break of the green, the prevailing wind, etc., and select the right club and apply the right touch, time and time again. Such talent requires very good judgment.

But, while we may admire good judgment, it seems that most of us would like very much to get by without needing to judge, or to make so many of the difficult decisions that come our way. The supremacy of process controllers and computers to oversee complex process and problems has been conceded for decades.  

Even substandard manufacturing systems today are based on computing platforms that are quantifiably superior to human intelligence when required to manage complex data formulations and use those to issue commands — commands that may be no more nuanced than ‘stop’ or ‘don’t stop’, but which can be counted on to continue at impressive speed without pausing or reconsidering, or stopping for some distraction as any human overseer would do. The productivity gains that have paced manufacturing over the past 30 years have been possible only with the process control capability that has become standard now.

This progress has changed the standard for evaluating manufacturing performance. Every manufacturer takes efforts to emphasize the high priority it places on product quality, but speed and throughput are the real values. Product quality can be, and is, measurable. Productivity is an open-ended graph on which new levels of performance are charted.

The true determining factor is speed — the speed required to produce something that will return value to the enterprise — and the speedier the better. Ultimately, the standard for performance is immediacy. And we have adopted this standard in our own lives, too. We rely on smart devices to make more and more decisions every day. We demand results.

There is some powerful impulse in human nature that wants problems resolved immediately, and it has driven manufacturing to exceptional levels of performance. And while this may seem like an easy way to chart our own courses it undermines our ability to succeed. For all our hopes and pretensions, we are not machines and we are not meant to be. If we hold ourselves to that standard, all of us are failures.