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June 4, 2001—Let Imperfection Reign

Socratics and Aristotelians. Wandering around America, you will find middle managers who believe you can achieve product quality if you will employ the correct statistical processes and sign up for Mr. Deming. We have always denied this. You can have a perfect Chevrolet, but we claim a Chevrolet is only a Chevrolet, no matter what you do to it. Even if we do use Impala wheels, we are a bit more Platonic, and so we assert that somebody's image of quality, no matter how badly represented, has to be installed in a product or system if you are really going to enter the world of the best. Going beyond digital processes, some inspired mortal has to import the ideas of the gods for earthly creations to become divine. In our souls, we need to have immortal traces.

Malcolm Baldrige. Mac Baldrige was such an immortal mortal. As you know, he was the inspiration for the Baldrige Awards, a creation of the Reagan Era, which we then hoped would let us eventually prevail in the rat race with the Japanese, who seemed back then to be outrunning and outgunning us in productivity, perfection, and purpose. Now, of course, they have floated out to sea. Learn more about Mr. Baldrige in "Gods, Heros, and Legends" this week.

Jaguar, Volvo Descending. This can easily turn into an argument for imperfection. For instance, we suggest that an imperfect Jaguar or Volvo of yesteryear is far better than the sterilemobiles rolling off the assembly lines now. Both these cars have been absorbed by Ford and have begun their decline. Jaguar used to leave oil spots on your garage floor and break down in fits of temperament; now it just looks pathetic, but it meets the middle manager's definition of quality. It is the perfectly made Budweiser beer--totally lacking in taste. Nothing is worse than a perfectly manicured, chemically sprayed garden. Volvo, too, is starting to lose its originality as cars roll off the lines in the Netherlands. Can its vaunted safety survive Ford, The Explorer-Firestone Company?

There's a consolation in all this. If we can ruin enough foreign brands, maybe American car companies can take the lead in U.S. car sales again, which they managed to lose in April (see "Wit and Wisdom").

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