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While we strive furiously to increase quantity in so many things, the quality of everything around us is diminishing – in our food, air, water, in our art, our honesty, and even our integrity. You can find love on the internet (or a substitute for it), and there’s always someone wanting to offer friendship on Facebook, but there’s not a lot of substance there, by and large. Our entertainment is filled with frantic calamity, gore, and violence, and the explosions in every other frame have replaced quality writing and meaningful dialogue. Our sitcoms are all fluff and social correctness interspaced with canned laughter, but the quality is gone. The writer Sherman Alexie once said, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of the chosen field of endeavor.”  That pretty well sums it up. Today we have people buying the highest quality televisions and watching the lowest quality television shows, and I’m reminded of the quote by David Farland: “There is danger in exposing yourself to too much vapid art. It can weaken your judgment and erode your sensibilities, until the time comes when you see things that are merely passable and somehow think they are good.”

When quality begins to erode in us as individuals it begins to affect us collectively as companies and businesses, and I notice this continuously. The other night, a couple of days or so after the recent ice storm here, I was coming back from work (anxious to be home and out of the light sleet that had just begun.) I had a 15-minute drive up a number of steep hills to make it home. I decided to stop at a local fast food restaurant and pick up supper. I pulled up at the order box and the voice at the other end said, “You can drive forward now.”

I replied, “Shouldn’t I order first?”

“Oh yeah, okay.” (This should have been a warning to me).

I placed my order – two prepackaged salads to go – nothing complicated. I wanted to get home. I pulled forward and paid for it, only to have the person taking my money tell me to “Please pull up and wait. We’ll bring your order out.” Mind you, there’s no one behind me, and no one in front, but I did as requested, and waited, and waited. Finally after nearly 10 minutes of waiting for a prepackaged salad I ran out of patience, got out of my car, banged on the window and demanded my money back, telling them that they should remove all information from their advertising that qualifies them as a fast food restaurant.

Here’s my point: Fast food restaurants need to deliver food fast. This is all about quality – in this case, it’s quality of service, and it represents the challenge all Americans have, and all businesses face.

I’ll leave you with a quote by Steve Jobs: “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”