Essence of Quality

I was reminded when reading one of Takashi's papers recently of Christopher Alexander's focus on the importance of "wholeness" and "quality" when creating space imbued with vitality.

I have been spending a great deal of time of late thinking about the importance of wholeness. Wholeness as Holonic. Wholeness at the core of Smalltalk, where, as Kay explained, everything is an object.

But, to be honest, I have struggled with "quality". It was grating something inside of me. Perhaps there was another word that might be better? I began to ponder.

Quality is a word that often comes up when talking about anything that is being produced. The quality of a tool. The quality of software.

Quality is at the root of Six Sigma. It is the root of modern manufacturing. An aspiration achieved through increased control over a process. The quality of the thing based on acceptable tolerances.

Wholeness is so filled with vitality. Quality felt like a control mechanism that was being laid on top of it. Something didn't seem right.

What I began to appreciate was that the discord I was feeling wasn't with the words, but the underlying paradigms that I was sitting them in. I now realize that I was looking at wholeness from a paradigm of organistic Autopoietic Systems while looking at quality from the perspective of mechanistic allopoietic systems.

In autopoietic systems, what is made is a reflection of the maker that becomes something part of a greater whole in a dynamic system. In an allopoietic system, what is made is external to the creator, at the service of an other.


Quality is that which has quale. Quale is our perception of something. Quale is not that which is, but our perception of that which is. That which is not an inherent characteristic, but one that is inextricably bound to the experience of the thing.

Quality is the experience of quale.

How might, we then, begin to think about quality, not as an external definition of acceptability, to an internalized experience of excellence found in vital autopoietic systems?

And then I hit on it. Delight. That which flows from seeing That Which is Good.

Delight is the experience of quality. It is when we hold something in our hand and admire it. Something we care about, that is important to us. That is quality.

For someone, it might be a jackknife. For others a bottle of wine. Quality depends on this flow of appreciation that happens when the object is perceived as valuable and good. It is that experience which vitalizes the maker and the system. Makes it healthy, keeps it supple and adaptive. The lifeblood.

Alexander was so right.

Recently I read an article about how airlines are complaining about the poor quality of Boeing's 787s. These planes are being produced in South Carolina, where Boeing moved their production from Washington in order to reduce their labor costs.

Leaving not only the high costs of union labor but the years of experience of a workforce that took great pride in their work.

By focusing on short-term financial gain, Boeing is risking their long-term reputation. Such a familiar song.

DOT FROM preview-next-diagram