The Case for Quality

Quality in the air.
Quality in the air.

A culture for quality doesn’t mean everything you buy and everything you do should be the most expensive. Cost and quality can be correlated, but it’s not necessarily a strong link.

There are some very clear examples where quality is unquestioned, and they tend to exist in super-luxury categories. Louis Vuitton is an example. Price is almost irrelevant when it comes to this company’s leather and travel goods. Gulfstream business jets would be another. They’re cases of unquestioned world’s best, and if you need to ask the price, you aren’t really hip to the point.

Back here in real life, the mass market for almost everything other than bizjets and French handbags operates on a cost-first basis. This is the race-to-the-bottom, three-cents-cheaper-than-the-other, stack-em-high-get-em-sold school of marketing, where the only consideration is that the product does the job and the tab isn’t too high. It’s the WalMart way of doing business, which is enough to tell you how pervasive it is.

More astonishing is the rise of the Family Dollar and the like store; undercutting the Behemoth of Bentonville is the name of their game, to hell with any notion of quality. If it says ‘laundry detergent’ then that’s good enough.

There is a middle ground, however. You can see it bubbling underneath the surface of consumer culture, trying to break through the crust of cheapest at all cost thinking. We can see it in Chipotle, for example, where fast food isn’t necessarily low quality. (Still enormously calorific though!) American-made Japanese cars, too are amazingly good quality for the money. And, of course, there are the products from my company.

Let’s get real; most people don’t give their household and personal products much more than a passing twitch at the supermarket. Folks have their brands, they know – or think they know – what they’re getting, and, because the whole thing’s a chore, and just want it over with. That’s the kind of thinking I am here to modify, if only slightly. I sell products that are of higher quality, are better for you, and cost at least the same (and oftentimes less) per use than supermarket brands. As an additional incentive, you can avoid wandering the supermarket aisle searching for them; they come to your door.

Because I saw the change in myself when I began using my company’s products, I know for sure lots of other out there are looking for the same. The quality of culture exists. Now I need to go find it.

Group Hug

Bike Tribe.
Bike Tribe.

If you’re searching for the answer to a dilemma, begin with a mirror, because the person who stares back is more than likely the problem, and more than likely has the solution.

I currently imagine myself like a long-ago launched spacecraft that is now leaving the solar system. I’ve been journeying for fifty years, but now find myself leaving familiar territory – our own solar system –  and heading into parts unknown. What I’d like to happen is to fall into a nice steady orbit around a welcoming planet…but I’m not sure that’s actually in my future. Perhaps a lifetime of wandering and making observations is more likely.

One recent discovery is that (when not lost in space) hanging out with the right people is super important. Knowing kinda sorta what these people look like is one thing; finding them is quite another. I guess the ego would like to find folks who are approximately like me, at least in the spiritual sense. The wider spiritual sense that is, meaning they have a similar life philosophy, political philosophy, morality and so on. Plus it would be nice if they could communicate in the same way I do, which is sometimes direct, and more often elliptically. I enjoy small absurdities.

So that’s become a priority, if we can ever rank such a thing as the chance of meeting like-minded individuals. I guess if we look, they’ll arrive, but, hey, whatever. The important point here is that I understand now that being alone like I have been isn’t healthy or productive. We are social creatures, which is a practical admonishment, not simply a generalized platitude.

Perhaps the best thing would be to ditch the space voyager analogy altogether. More important to look at that mug in the mirror and take a careful shave. That’s way more likely to help with finding my tribe.

 

Comcast Madness

Escape from cable prison.
Escape from cable prison.

My six-week flirtation with cable television concluded this morning, thank the Lord. After waiting forty minutes at the Comcast office I returned my cable box, remote, sorted out my internet service, and finally regained my dignity.

The story began back in early February when my co-worker, Charlie, offered me his surplus tv. Despite – OMG I can’t believe I did this – despite being tv-free since September of 2007, I said yes. That’s nearly five and one-half years in which I’d never owned a television nor had a cable tv bill. I was free! Until I screwed up.

So I accepted. The thing is a six-year old Sony Bravia, LCD (I think) and forty-something inches in size. It’s a big piece of kit that barely fit into the trunk of my car. I lugged it inside, where it sat for a month. I just couldn’t raise the enthusiasm to call the cable company and get connected. I wasn’t ready for a relationship.

Backtracking a little, it’s important to note that Charlie’s intention was that I be able to watch this season’s Formula One races. I’m a fan, as is he, and I think he felt we’d be better able to compare race notes if I was watching live rather than the delayed highlights. Frankly, the idea appealed to me, being deprived of live races now for five seasons. The big question is whether the recidivism of backtracking on my anti-tv stand was worth having a season of F1 racing.

Of course, the answer is “NO!”

Almost as soon as this adventure began, I just knew it was wrong. It was wrong to accept the tv, wrong to consider spending time watching the dopey thing, and completely wrong to think I could afford the seventy dollar cable bill. The outcome was predetermined, and I went ahead anyway. I ignored the still voice inside.

But all’s well that ends well. I did see three races. I watched Adam Scott win the Masters. Despite some less than stellar interactions with Comcast, I ended up with a decent internet and new phone deal. The phone’s important for business, and so that’s a step ahead.

Plan Your Future

Red Benz.
Red Benz.

Maturity – or, at least, age – has its virtues. I’ve had four decades of experience and contemplation to understand a few things about living on our planet. Of all the stuff, it boils down to a handful of key concepts, one of which is utterly contradictory: that when we are young, there is less time than we think, and when we are old, there is more time than we think. Here’s my example of this.

I am fifty now. At this age, my father had a seventeen-year-old son and a twenty-four year-old son. He seemed, as parents tend to, beyond the reach of my youthful enthusiasms. He and my mother lived in a related, but docile and non-reactive world. They seemed past it. I could never see myself being him.

Thanks to discipline and energy, I structured my life and did what I set out to do. I ended up an airline pilot at age twenty-two, a first officer at twenty-six and a captain at thirty. At one point I would have been the youngest Boeing 747 commander in the world. That pace of doing stuff seemed normal to me.

But early success led to early boredom. Boredom can kill anything, no matter how fascinating you found it in the beginning. And the speed of my ascent left me with an inflated view of my abilities in any sphere. In fact, I specialized and did well – transferring that experience to a new and completely different arena is way difficult.
But my biggest failing was not in failing; no shame in that. The biggest mistake was no recognizing early enough that I needed to make changes in my plans AND my outlook. Flexibility gave way to a rigid view of my future that simply didn’t work. Now, ten years or so later, I look back at a mess that I’m gradually working my way out of.

Returning to my precept, there was much less time than I thought, despite my relatively young age.

The upside is that from these ashes of my fall come the beginnings of better understanding and a new start. Those horrible days of failure and despair, of not knowing where to go or what to do, have given way to a strength I have never known. It’s true, in my life at least, that when you fall, it’s the getting up that’s important, not what happened before.

So now I truly am starting anew. At fifty. But let’s look at my small history. In Seventeen year at the airline, I had an awesome time, and achieved some amazing things, all from a standing start. (And the last seven years were basically cruising, so we’re actually looking at around a decade from bottom to top.) My point is that even though the years are really scurrying past, there are many more of them that my brain thinks. In ten years I’ll be sixty, and I could very well be living the kind of life of which I’ve dreamed. It. Is. So. Possible.

Yes, selling my products is a part of the game, even if it’s not the only part. Knowing when to change is an important part of my repertoire. But understanding that working towards financial independence, residual income, a happy customer base is best done by displaying integrity, clear-headedness, honesty, hard work and discipline is the lesson anyone can learn.

Maybe I can help some others along the way, and even save them from the Big Dip I just went through. Oh, and my company will give me a car when I have enough customers too.