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The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection

by Jim Morgan
March 14, 2014

The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection

by Jim Morgan
March 14, 2014 | Comments (14)

For me it may have started with the 1992 Lexus commercial in which the camera zoomed on a tiny ball bearing rolling effortlessly down the precise margins of the exterior body panels of the ES300. Or perhaps it was in my early work as a journeyman model maker under the watchful eye of highly skilled and demanding craftsmen while we built tools, and hand fabricated and welded precision vehicle bodies. In either case I began to notice that there was a sharp contrast between well-made, crafted products and poorly made ones, and an even greater distinction between the people who made them. I immediately and instinctively knew which one I wanted to make, and be. 

To be clear, I am not talking about the pseudo-magical, romantic craftsmanship of a bygone era, but a vibrant creative force that is still creating unique and lasting value in products and driving the development of truly exceptional people across all walks of life right now. 

Distinctive Products

You can recognize craftsmanship in products and services by their simple elegance and seamless fit. They embody the elimination of the superfluous and the precise execution of the essential. It is that certain something about a product that says “well made” and actually draws you to it. Like the simple elegance and fit and finish of an Apple device enclosure, an Audi car interior, or a church pew from the “Katrina Furniture Project” (made from hurricane debris) that elicits a deep and emotional appreciation. Great craftsmanship is not just for traditional hard goods either. We see this in Menlo Innovation’s creative and deeply researched user interfaces, the precision movements of a surgeon who has mastered her craft, and even Marcelo Garcia’s exacting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, all of which leave the observer wide eyed.   

This response to precisely crafted products is also apparent in the “now I get it” reaction I have seen so many times from overworked and previously skeptical engineers after they see the physical result of their hard work to craftsmanship standards for the first time. Far from magical, the process of creating truly exceptional products is the outcome of rigorous and objective performance standards for both people and products. It requires incredible attention to a thousand details, an obsession with excellence and especially the seamless collaboration of design, engineering and manufacturing to produce something of exceptional value.

Exceptional People

There is an innate desire in most people to do a job well for it’s own sake. This is the spirit of craftsmanship. It is universal and it connects people to their work in a very personal way by conferring pride and meaning to their work. Consequently the achievement of mastery in ones work brings an internal joy only possible by accomplishing something incredibly difficult – and personal. To be sure, this arduous journey has a lasting impact on those who choose to follow this path. While rare, craftsmen exist in every profession and can be recognized by their understated confidence, self-reliance and incredible focus. Each movement or activity is consequent with little wasted energy creating a kind of rhythm or flow. They are not perfect, far from it, and no one knows that better than they do. But this fact does not keep them from the pursuit of perfection. And that makes all the difference.

But a word of warning. In a world of “shortcuts to the top”, “instant acclaim”, and “pivoting”, this journey will require a great deal of hard work and loads of perseverance. Yet as lean thinkers, value creation and the pursuit of perfection are after all, what we are all about. The spirit of craftsmanship is a key component to creating something of lasting value and the pursuit will change the character of both the work and the worker, forever. Is there extra cost for craftsmanship? Not necessarily, but there is certainly a cost to ignoring it. Remember, in the end, the product we are really working on is ourselves. Make something of lasting value.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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14 Comments | Post a Comment
Michael Ballé March 14, 2014
4 People AGREE with this comment
What a great - even poetic - description of monozukuri as I understand it. Thank you Jim

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Jim Morgan March 15, 2014
Monozukuri indeed - of the best kind.  With people development at it's core.  Thanks very much Michae

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Mark Donovan March 15, 2014
5 People AGREE with this comment
Jim - Thank you for a post that is as powerful in its content as it is beautiful in its prose.  Jim Womack said in Orlando, "even in real time we try to make things better."  It is not an event or an activity but a state of mind.  It is a challenging concept to accept and then even more difficult to internalize and actualize.   Do you have any routines or behaviors that you have adopted that help keep you on this path?  

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Jim Morgan March 15, 2014

Thanks much Mark! I spend as much time as I can around "interesting characters" who continually challenge me - and lots of hard work and reflection.  

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Jeff Morrow March 15, 2014
Very true.  How rare it is to face the incentives to craft as Jim did in model-making, how sad it is that we work in organizations that condition us to satisfice instead of craft

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Jim Morgan March 15, 2014
And how powerful when organizations create environments to nurture this spirit in all.  Thanks Jef

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Al Hamad March 17, 2014
Very inspiring.  Craftsmanship is a true great differentiator.  If we nurture the craftsmanship in all our people, the lean journey will be a lot shorter

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Jim Morgan March 17, 2014
Thanks Al!  So powerful - delivering great products through developing great peopl

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Tricia Simo Kush March 17, 2014
4 People AGREE with this comment

What a great article; you've made my day!

That "now I get it" realization never fails to make me smile. Too often we don't know why we're doing something and fail to see the value in standards. What's worse is when those standards are compromised due to projects factors (the classic time/money/complexity constraints come to mind) and the opportunity for craftmanship is lost.

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Jim Morgan March 17, 2014
Thanks so much Tricia!  The "now I get it" moment is an incredible experience for both the student and teacher....  Opportunities lost chip away at the very foundation of the organization. 

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Mateus Gonçalves April 13, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this comment
Make easier to understand how craftsmanship and quality is working together. For me Marcelo Garcia is best of best bjj in all weight divisions!!

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Jim Morgan April 13, 2014
Thanks Mateus!  Agree with you on Marcelo Garcia - the best.  He has absolutely mastered his craft!! And such a humble and good person

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Durward Sobek May 09, 2014
Great post!  The joy one receives from craftsmanship often stems from something bigger than oneself, for example the wonder and enjoyment people get from using your product, or the improvement of someone's quality of life.  When we too quickly say "good enough" we miss the opportunity to create meaningful purpose for ourselves and our teammates.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jim

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Jim Morgan May 10, 2014
Exactly.  Thanks Durwar

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Search Posts:
Lean Management System
Joe Murli & Mark Hamel
Lean Product and Process Development, 2nd Edition
By Allen C. Ward and Durward K. Sobek II
Reflections on Lean
By Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc.
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