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The mark of quality

Many times when I was young, having done the sorts of things you can probably imagine me having done, I'd say sorry. My mother would tell me, "If you were sorry, you wouldn't have done it." It obviously left its mark on me, as that is my response every time a train I'm on is late and the announcer says that the company is sorry about the delay.

That aside, though, I disagree with Mum. Sorry doesn't mean not making mistakes. Mistakes happen. They are unavoidable. They are consequences of having to do things within constraints. The mark of quality isn't whether you make mistakes. It is what you do once you have made a mistake.

I had a coach once who worked by the motto that everyone makes a first mistake. Don't make a second. His example is that if you miss a pass, that is the first mistake. The second mistake is not following up and helping regather the football.

In general, the first mistake happens. The second mistake is when you don't correct the first mistake. This applies whether it is a person or an organisation.

So why is this on my mind at the moment? As I either have told or will tell, depending on what order I post, my luggage is currently in the netherworld of airline incompetence. And I am currently in a borrowed t-shirt, dirty underwear and a foul mood. Quickly, the story:

At Amsterdam, I got from the plane from Cardiff to the plane to Rome without incident or problem. My bag didn't. I discovered this in Rome, when I asked at the baggage enquiries desk. I was told it would be in Rome in 3 hours, except I had a train to catch and couldn't wait. In hindsight, this may not have been the smartest thing to do. The lady said they would put it on a plane to Naples and it would be in Naples that night. This was Wednesday. Thursday morning, they said it was at Naples airport and they were giving it to a courier. By my calculations, Naples airport is somewhere in Russia. It is Friday morning and my bag stil hasn't arrived. According to Alitalia, the courier gets about 200 bags and says it will take about 24 hours. Unfortunately, I am here for a conference, and, due to the scheduling and location, I haven't been able to actually do anything constructive, such as get to a shop.

This is, of course, ridiculous. While it is annoying that my bag didn't get on the right plane, it is absolutely inexcusable that my bag sat at Naples airport overnight. It is similarly inexcusable that, when it was sent, it disappears into a netherworld where a courier can take another overnight before they deliver it. In my mind, having made the initial mistake, Alitalia have been incompetent in subsequent correction. They have entered my boycott-due-to-incompetence list.

A different example is the Iraq situation. Whatever you think of America going in is irrelevent. Saying "they should never have gone in in the first place" is unhelpful and irrelevant to the situation. What is more important is whether they are trying to correct any mistakes. Whether you think this consists of leaving, a surge or something else, having a go is the important thing. And this is how America should be judged.

It's not the mistakes that characterise quality - individual or institutional. It is the attempts to rectify.


Comment from Gillian

I don't recall saying anything of the sort!

Comment from revi

Shouldn't that be a 'do not boycott due to incompetence' list? It would be much shorter. You could have 2 lists: a big one called companies that you've used and were incompetent and a post-it for companies that are...

I respond

While it might sound like a good idea, there are two things. The first is that companies on the post-it may find their way on to the other list, and the second is that, in general, you don't notice a lack of incompetence. Companies doing what they should do is (or should be) normal. And so shouldn't need extra acknowledgement.

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