“The quality of a man’s life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of his chosen field of endeavour” (Vince Lombardi)
Quality starts with attitude – it ends with attention to detail. Famed artist, Norman Rockwell, put passion into capturing details. In his book, My Adventures of an Illustrator, he describes his early struggles to become an artist: his rising career as a popular illustrator of magazines and advertisements; his experiences with colleagues, models, and clients; his periods of self-doubt and how he overcame them. He relates the effort of posing a chicken so that he could accurately draw it: “You pick up the chicken and rock him back and forth a few times. When you set him down, he will stand just as you’ve placed him for four or five minutes. Of course, you have to run behind the easel quickly to do much painting before the chicken moves. If you want to paint the chicken’s full face, the procedure is even more complicated because the eyes of a chicken are on the sides of his head and when he looks at you, he turns his head. I finally got a long stick and, after I’d set the chicken down and gone behind my easel, I’d rap the wall at one side of the chicken, and he’d turn his head toward me to look at the wall. It’s very strenuous painting a chicken”.
The easiest and most effective way to work hard and apply attention to detail is to find work that is both enjoyable and meaningful. The more joy that we find in our work, the more driven we will feel to produce quality results. Finding enjoyable and interesting work is not everyone’s opportunity, perhaps, but investing meaning and purpose in what you do is possible for all. Even a porter that pushes stretchers or wheelchairs in a hospital can see the role as “helping to improve the health of the nation”.
Many don’t seem to have the visionary ability to transform what they do into understanding why they do it. How we work changes dramatically when we understand the “why” of work – not to earn money, but rather the impact that can be expected when we work with vigour, accuracy and attention. If you find your job to be a grind (it doesn’t make you jump out of bed in the morning), then ask and answer the following questions for yourself:
- What is the real purpose of my role? (e.g.: as an accountant, it is not just balancing the books, but assisting the business with accurate financials to enable leadership to make more informed business decisions)
- Does this role excite me? If not, what do I really want to do?
- If I can’t move internally within the company or resign right now for financial reasons, what part of my role really does excite me, and can I move more and more of my effort and time into those exciting parts?
Quality comes from an attitude that invests joy, laughter, energy, and consideration into everything that you do. Attention to detail follows as an expression of pride and a good sense of self-worth. In this approach, mediocrity is not an option – your name, personal brand and reputation are far too important to let things slip.
Dr Stephen R Covey (of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” fame), in the Reader’s Digest book, Everyday Greatness, notes: “Over the past few decades, the word ‘quality’ has predominantly been relegated to a business term. And businesses do need to pay attention to quality as a matter of survival. But quality is a way of living whether in the business arena or in your personal life. Quality affects how you speak, dress, work, entertain, and eat. It impacts how you walk, teach, listen, exercise, learn, and play. It is one of those principles that weaves itself throughout the entire tapestry of life, both directly and indirectly touching everything you are and everything you do. And no, quality does not require a lot of expense, but it does require a careful attention to detail”.
Quality starts as an attitude – it ends with extraordinary attention to detail. Excellence is possible no matter how small or large the project. Even Aristotle noted: “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work”.