Craving, obsessing over owning quality things is infections. Not solely about their uniqueness. But also because of how these hand-made things make us look in front of others. When we own luxury stuff, we feel superior. But how can you define quality? How can you distinguish a good product from a bad product? A recent book I read introduced me to this puzzling question. And in this post, I’ll walk you through the main elements I believe are needed to create quality things.
How much something costs is the common metric we use to determine quality.
Or how much attention something gets.
Think famous people with a large online following.
We see someone popular sharing something and we immediately think it’s good.
But is it really good or do we only see it as good because of the status of the person?
I’m not talking only about quality things – objects.
Here, in this post, the term quality will be used for pretty much everything – writing, concepts, movies, music, websites, objects, people even.
Before I share what qualities something should possess to be perceived as superior, let’s look at this question first:
Why is Quality Important To Any Industry?
Endless attempts to get your attention.
That’s how we feel.
That’s how I feel, at least.
Everywhere you go, people want your attention.
Street signs. Online commercials. People wearing trendy clothes and driving luxury cars. Virtual avatars bombing post after post trying to sell you something.
Everything looks cool.
But does everything deserve your attention and your money?
Eventually, we create an eye for good things. For good writing. For good people even.
When this happens, we know that something is good only when we see it even if we can’t adequately explain why.
But our view is never constant.
Depending on our current desires and our place in the world, our measurement of quality changes.
When I was 20. I bought clothes that I now consider second-hand, and I was intellectually satisfied when I read books that I now consider a cliché (For example: Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop).
Nowadays, I want to read books that are ingenious and intense. Such that pursue difficult questions and require the use of a dictionary(For example: The Evolving Self by Robert Kegan). And – after working around 2 years in the fashion industry in the past – I can easily distinguish a good shirt from a bad one only by touching the fabric.
Or to directly answer the question (Why quality is important?)…
I should say this: Quality things help us evolve and grow as a species. The more you’re using exceptional stuff – both consuming and actually using – the better your output. Furthermore – something that’s even more important – the more you are exposed to quality things, the more motivated you become to create such things.
This is a very broad definition, I know.
But let me give you a simple example:
If you read ordinary writing, your thoughts will be quite ordinary as well. As you can’t create a tall building with clay, you can’t invite workable ideas that can lead to progress with only moderate insights.
In short, you need good things to produce good things.
This is worth repeating: “You need good things to produce good things.”
And the more good things you consume, the more you will raise your standards.
In the world of consumption, this is called lifestyle creep.
The more your salary increases, the more money you waste to refine your quality of living. It’s, as described in online publications, the ever-escalating taste for the finer things.
The same level of creep can be observed in intellectuals who smoke cigars and use fancy jargon.
We call these intellectual snobs.
And while dictionaries describe these people as bastards. I don’t think that we shouldn’t go too hard on them.
These people simply have high standards and they are not afraid of voicing them.
Yes, if you’re Uncle Scrooge-type of rich, you should probably abstain from disrespecting others or looking down on them simply because they don’t own a second yacht. But I think that there is a usable idea here.
Don’t fall into the trap of mediocrity.
For instance, most people don’t read books and most jobs don’t force you to constantly learn new things to stay employed (not that it won’t help you, but most jobs don’t push you in that direction).
I mean, think about it, I’m sure that most of your colleagues are not readers and are also not pushing themselves to get better at their job.
They are somewhere in the middle. Doing an OK job.
That’s totally fine. People have different views about how they should progress.
But I think that if you agree and adopt the view of how most people around you behave, you’ll also adopt the mindset that you don’t need to change. That doing an OK job is fine.
A lot of times, this is actually fine. Doing an OK job is indeed enough.
For example, you don’t need to get better at driving after you’ve reached a certain level of wheel-turning. We don’t have to take lessons on becoming a race driver if you’re simply commuting to work. Following the rules and being 100% focused while driving is good enough.
But you do need to get better at all sorts of other things if you want to see permanent improvements in your lifestyle.
As you expect companies to ship new and better phones, laptops, and movies each year. You should expect the same thing from yourself.
If this sounds like hard work, it’s because it is actually hard work. But that, I think, it’s the correct path if you want to feel better than yesterday in your own skin.
If you think the same, good.
Let’s now tackle some other important questions:
- How can we define quality?
- How should we start?
- How do you know if something is good?
Personally, this is how I view things:
How Can You Define Quality?
In the classic book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig pursues this question in length. We can even say that the whole book is one detailed dissection of the topic.
After reading it, I’ve created my own definition.
Before I share it, let me show you how I reached my conclusion.
Instead of tackling the question straight on. I decided to first define what’s not good. What’s the opposite of quality. What’s mediocre.
Here’s what I found:
I think something is not good, the opposite of quality, if it has these three characteristics:
- Intellectually unchallenging: Boring, cliché, second-rate duplicate.
- Ugly: Not properly designed. Obviously flawed.
- Unclear: Confusing and hard to get.
Therefore, to have a good product, a quality product, you should aim for the characteristics situated on the other side of the above three. Namely: clear, nicely-designed, and original product.
Think about it.
If something is original, elegant, and clearly presented, it will surely win your heart.
A combination of the three is perfect, but I believe that one of the above is not absolutely necessary to appeal to the masses. At least not in all cases.
For instance, even if you have an average-looking blog, if the content is cleaver and easily understood, people will still adore it.
One example that comes immediately to mind is the blog of Paul Graham.1 Another one is the blog of Kevin Kelly.2
The layouts of these two sites are quite boring. Yet, the writing is absolutely amazing. Full of clearly expressed original ideas.
The other two qualities are necessary, though.
If you produce intellectually challenging work, but if it’s confusing – think research papers – you won’t appeal enough to the masses.
If you have a nicely designed website, but if you fail to deliver clearly presented and original content. The design won’t save you from the harsh criticism delivered by the internet mob.
Taking the above into account, consider the following movies:
There is nothing special about the effects in the movie CODA – there are close to zero effects, actually. With a budget of only $10 million, we can say that the production of the film cost pennies compared to other blockbusters.3 Yet, it’s astonishing, meaningful, carrying an important message – highly recommend watching it.
On the flip side, we have movies like Fast and Furious 9. Explosions. Famous actors. A pile of money for the production (budget $200 million).4 Sadly, the result is a trainwreck. Unlogical and dull. The plot is vague and absent of any meaning.
But apart from failing to produce a worthy movie, the crew filming Fast and Furious 9 failed also at the 4th ingredient of quality work.
Yes, there’s one more fragment:
The pursuit of excellence.
How Can You keep Producing Quality Work?
As I said in the beginning. With age, we evolve. Our standards rise. We can easily distinguish an okay-ish product from something done by a true craftsman.
Similarly, brands – hey, this also includes movie sequels – should aim for getting better.
The new phone presented by Apple this year is probably not that different from the phone they presented last year. Yet, it’s a little bit better. Sometimes with just a tiny bit. Other times it’s “revolutionary” better.
We expect this from tech companies.
But I think that we should expect this from ourselves, too.
Instead of focusing on producing quality products and feeling inferior when you can’t create an Apple-like object. Focus on the opposite. Focus on not doing the same as yesterday.
Focus on slightly improving your product. Service. And yourself along the way by just a tiny bit every day.
James Clear, in his bestsellers Atomic Habits, calls this the 1% rule.
I prefer this: Avoiding comfort.
It’s my mantra, what keeps me on track.
When things are going fine in my life, I tell myself this: “Don’t get too comfortable!”
Let me explain…
The reason why sequels are almost always worse than the original movie – think Speed 2, Wonder Woman 1984, Fast and Furious 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 – is because they prioritize capitalizing the momentum they’ve created from their first movie.
The audience wants more.
But instead of taking the time to craft something unique. They get comfortable. Their values change from wanting to create something unique to wanting to create simply something so they can sequence more money out of the gathered audience.
Movie directors simply throw something to the crowd because they know that there are enough people out there who are willing to consume it.
Unlike their first movie, they are no longer moved by creating something of quality. They are motivated by money, and they don’t think that they should prove something to others. Therefore, they end up creating simply something.
This is what happens when you get too comfortable.
If you feel too comfortable on your job, you won’t push yourself.
If you feel too comfortable with your partner not leaving you, you will probably neglect her/him.
And – probably the worse – if you get too comfortable with your life in general. You won’t push yourself to learn something new. To create something better than yesterday.
You will satisfy yourself with just something.
Sadly, these days, there are a ton of somethings online. Dulling our senses and preventing us from distinguishing the good from the bad.
Some Closing Thoughts
I started this site because I was frustrated by the content online.
Social media gurus who present this false image of perfection. Trying to convince you that you can achieve what they have achieved – or at least what they present to the crowd – only by buying their products.
Algorithms that are gathering data and using every possible moment to capture your attention so they can shove more products you don’t need in your face.
And my personal “favorite”: Money-driven corporations who maintain bloated with ad sites that are unfortunately dominating the online verse.
Just search for something and you will see what I mean. You can hardly read the text because of all the crappy advertisers. The content is not even the main objective of these publications. They simply produce a bulk of content to increase the likelihood of attracting more confused, solution-seeking viewers.
I wanted to create something I wish existed.
Clean. Nicely designed. With – hopefully – original content.
A breath of fresh air from the busy online streets bustling with influencers and never-ending piles of “must-have” products.
Above all, with the right incentives: Helping me get slightly better than yesterday in terms of how I think and eventually helping my readers do the same through my writing.
I know that I have a lot of work to do. My site and my writing are both far from perfect. But I’m doing my best to gradually improve.
And if you’re looking for someone to follow to help you get better, I can only say this:
Simply look at what you did yesterday, and try to make it a bit better, today.
Quality is not a thing you can achieve. It’s an ever-fleeting event. You might have it today, but this doesn’t mean that you’ll have it tomorrow. It always requires work.
So, get to work.
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- Paul Graham is a famous computer scientist, essayist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and author. He is best known for his work on the programming language Lisp.
- Kevin Kelly is the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, and a former editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Review.
- Source: CODA (2021 film)
- Souce: F9 (film)