Scale and the Dilution of Quality

Craftspeople are about quality. They make their wares by hand. Their own two hands. The attention to detail–the caring–is literally part of their creation. The revisions, the do-overs, the work that is abandoned because it isn’t good enough is what separates a craftsperson from the poseur, the hobbyist, the amateur, and the person who does something simply to scale it up and sell it.

When something is created by hand, the deep caring that is poured into the work allows the creator to deliver what is exceptional, what is exquisite, what is excellent. It’s difficult to scale attention to detail, and it’s even more difficult to scale caring (even though it can–and is–being done).

Dilution of Care

The act of scaling beyond a certain point is a dilution of quality.

Scale is the decision to serve more people. This means swapping “by hand” for more efficient means. Efficiency is the choice of speed over quality. It’s trading exceptional, exquisite, and excellent for “good enough. Scale doesn’t mean that something isn’t good, useful, or even that it isn’t worth buying. But it does mean that trade-offs were made.

The Retention of What Is Exceptional

To retain exceptional, exquisite, and excellence, you have to make greater investments, investments that kill efficiency. You have to hire more people to create high touch, high value, and high caring. You have to keep slack in the system when your competitors are working on becoming leaner. The decisions you make because of your choice of strategy must look like madness to your competitors.

Exceptional takes more investments in time, money, and caring. Good enough is about being efficient.

Not Everything Need Be

Not everything needs to be exceptional. What one person values enough to pay more to obtain, another person perceives as a commodity.

If it is your model, your strategy, is to differentiate by creating what is exceptional, then scaling will require greater and greater investments, and those investments will require that you price your offering to deliver that. That means you are going to have to ask your clients to pay for inefficiencies, for slack, for high caring. They are going to have to pay for things to be done by hand.

In many markets, the middle is getting pulled apart. Companies–and their leaders–are being forced to choose to compete on price and begin a gradual race to the bottom or serve the higher end of the market instead. Scaling mostly means dilution of quality and moving down from exceptional.

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