The problem with quality is that it is neither a requirement for, nor a guarantee of, success. I’m pretty sure that everyone reading this is, to some extent, a believer in the importance of (product) quality. Be it green coffee, roasted coffee, or cups of coffee – we all value the quality of it with respects to our time and resources. However, it often seems to me that we spin this tale around ourselves; that as long as what you do is of excellent quality then the rest will take care of itself. I wish this were true, but every day it becomes increasingly apparent that it isn’t. Just because your cafe serves great coffee, doesn’t mean it is going to be a success. It seems blindingly obvious when written like this, but all too often I feel like our message is the opposite of that. You might argue that your definition of success is different than mine. You might argue that your passion runs so deep that you see no other choice than to pursue quality, and to offer anything else is morally repugnant, or failure. If this is the case, then I might ask why you chose to commercialise the thing you love? You might be chasing quality as a route to recognition – though this is something that is difficult to sustain month after month, year after year. Back to the context of cafes – we often talk about how quality can overcome location, you can become a destination cafe. Or quality might turn a tiny location into a viable business. Quality above all else. I held this view for a long time, but “the foolish and the dead alone never change their opinion 1. Now I see the capacity and ability to achieve quality as success. Everything else is a hurdle in the way of doing what I want to, which means that profitability, marketing, efficiency, systems and structure must be achieved in order to get to a place where quality is possible (and even enjoyable). This isn’t just semantics, it is more about a mindset and prioritisation of goals. Starting by trying to achieve great quality regardless of these hurdles is a very painful path, from which few emerge unscathed. Quality is not the means to an end. It is the end.
James Russell Lowell (1819 – 1891), My Study Windows,1899. ↩