Future Shape of Quality

Tom Peters believes that the term "excellence" requires wholesale redefinition, if the word is to be applicable to businesses in the future. "Perhaps, excellent firms don't believe in excellence—only in constant improvement and constant change," says Tom. "That is, excellent firms of tomorrow will cherish impermanence—and thrive on chaos." This is a long way from the "7S" model set out in Tom's seminal book, In Search of Excellence.

To my mind, the words excellence and quality have always had similar connotations. So, one might reasonably assume that what's true for future excellence might also be true for future quality, and vice versa? Apparently not, it would seem! I have been working recently with one of the UK's most prestigious authorities on Quality. I suspect their "body of knowledge" on the subject of quality would rival that of most similar bodies around the world. However, when you get past all the contemporary language, their principal focus is still the application of retrospective static models of quality, which are supervised and certified by third-party process-conformance checking. It seems that a quality company can still market concrete life jackets providing they are all made the same way, all carry a stern danger-to-health warning, and the company has a clear complaints procedure!

Reading again through the string of interesting comments on Mike Neiss's recent "Hard Work Matters" blog and the debate about how Future Shape of the Winner compares with the Malcolm Baldrige quality award system has made we wonder if there are any quality assessment methodologies out there that can calibrate the impermanence requirement of future excellent companies. Is there a quality assessment tool that can accommodate hot words like "cherish" and "thrive"?