Are you fast. . or accurate? Great men have shown you can be both, but not unless you strive for quality first
Donald A. Laird
ELI WHITNEY graduated from college, then went to Georgia and studied law. There he heard people talking about the
need for a better way of removing the seeds from cotton pods. A Negro slave tediously picked seeds all day to get only a pound of cotton lint. That is why cotton goods were too expensive for most folks.
“You are a good linkerer, despite all your book studies,” General Greene’s widow said to young Whitney. “Couldn’t you find some way to get rid of t he seeds?”
Whitney closed his law hook and gazed blankly across the room. He was thinking of some of the machines he; had made on his father’s farm hack in Massachusetts.
“Perhaps ” he finally answered. “May I use your shed as a workshop?”
He soon produced a contraption which combed out the cotton seeds 50 times faster than the most skilled sla ve. But when he applied for patents on his cotton gin several states refused him, and piratical manufacturers stole his business in others. He brought lawsuits to protect his patents, and the law ate up his money, leaving him almost penniless. Yet his invention mom than doubled the cotton states’ wealth.
He gave up his cotton gin business and developed a new idea in manufacturing. He converted a small factory in New Haven to make rifles, and began to work on a government order for 10,000 new model rifles, at ridiculously low prices.
“How can lie ever do it at that price?” knowing ones asked. For in those days each rifle was painstakingly made by hand, and gunsmiths who did the skilled work commanded top wages.
Officials in Washington heard strange rumors about Whitney’s factory—-he was reported to be making guns without any armorersand they rushed an inspector to learn what it was all about. The inspector had difficulty getting into the factory, and when he did Whitney evaded his questions his unfortunate experience with the cotton gin had made him secretive with everyone.
A week before the first rifles were contracted for delivery more inspectors called, but Whitney
did not have a single completed rifle to show them.
“But you know you have to deliver a large number in just seven days or your contract will be forfeited.”
“Come back in seven days, gentlemen,” Whitney blandly replied, “and those rifles—-and many more - will be ready for you.”
The door shut in the puzzled inspectors’ faces. Was this man out of his mind! Making rifles without armorers, and not a gun finished yet. They shrugged their shoulders. Well, it would be his funeral, not theirs.
A week passed. Back came the inspectors, and this time there was no secrecy. Haggard but smiling, Whitney took them into a long room. At one end were empty crates, waiting for guns— but still empty. Young men and women were working at long benches down the sides of the room, a small bin beside each worker. The inspectors watched as one worker put a couple of pieces together, then passed them to the next worker, who added a few more pieces.
“Man alive,” the inspectors exclaimed, “do you expect those parts to fit into any gun? The Government will never accept such rifles. Every gunsmith knows that every piece has to be filed and fitted to each gun!”
Whitney motioned the inspectors to follow him to the other long bench. There were the completed rifles. Whitney took three of them, removed all their parts, scrambled the pieces together, and had an Irish boy put them together in a couple of minutes flat.
“I still don’t believe it,” one inspector said in amazement.
“There is some trick—let me see if I can do it with some other guns,” said the other.
The inspectors quickly proved to themselves that they, too, could put rifles together. Whitney was not playing tricks on them.
For the first time in history parts had been made to an accuracy which other manufacturers had said was impossible. One part was just like
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thousandth of an inch! And that accuracy spelled economy, since it eliminated the need for slow hand filing and fitting. Whitney’s rifle parts snapped into place. Now soldiers could replace broken parts on the field of battle. Armies would only need to carry extra parts, instead of extra rifles as before.
Quality made it possible for Whitney to make more rifles, and better rifles, at less cost. His pioneering in quality manufacture led to the birth of modern mass production. It is quality in details which makes mass production possible —enables modern factories to get prodigious things done.
With the individual, too, emphasis on quality makes one get more things done.
Experiments with beginners learning to use the typewriter have shown that those who aim for speed right from the start do not succeed. The ones who gain most speed ultimately are those who try for accuracy right from the beginning. This is not as contradictory as it may seem at first.
Those who try for quality from the outset do not have to make so many
erasures and corrections. Mistakes waste less of their time.
Yet the old adage, slow but sure, does not imply the truth of the opposite— “fast but inaccurate.” Dozens of experiments show beyond doubt that the inaccurate worker is usually the t’ow worker. The slow learner does more things wrong. So keep the emphasis on being sure, not on being slow.
Just as the adage, slow but sure, may be wrongly interpreted, so may: “A
good workman never complains about his tools.” The good workman sees that he has good tools. He puts his emphasis on quality. He keeps his tools sharp and true so that they work properly and get more things done and done well.
Men who have accomplished things have always unconsciously applied this. William S. Burroughs, onetime bank clerk, who invented the first workable adding machine, did not make his sketches on paper. Instead he etched them accurately in fine lines on metal plates, in full-scale size. He just naturally emphasized quality.
George Buffon, great naturalist and writer, racked with pain from cancer, rewrote some of his books 11 times before sending them to the printers— although he had already spent half a
! century on his subject. Sir Isaac ; Newton rewrote some of his books 15 ! times before they were set in type. The things they got done counted, because they were not satisfied with less than their best effort.
In the Theatre Too
David Belasco was born in a California cellar, educated in a monastery, and started his career as a bareback rider, jumping through flaming hoops. He became the pre-eminent impresario of the theatre because he emphasized quality while other producers were careless of it.
When Belasco wanted an actress to give a more realistic scream he jabbed her with a pin. When the actors were supposed to be eating a meal during the second act, they ate a real meal, piping hot. When he did not think the newly painted scenery was accurate he chopped it up with an axe. He rehearsed his plays twice as long, and three times as hard, as other producers. He took an unknown, unattractive, redheaded, moody, big-nosed, Kentucky woman, who had just been divorced from her elderly liver pill manufacturing husband, and made Mrs. Leslie Carter the rage of the stage for 15 years. (King Edward VII went to see one of her plays six times, cried his eyes out each time.)
“I know what pleasure is,” remarked Robert Louis Stevenson, “for I have done good work.” That is not the comment of a conceited man but of a craftsman. Craftsmen get things done because they emphasize quality. Stevenson had been trained in engineering, where accuracy is paramount, and as a writer he kept the ideal of quality still in the forefront. His life was cut short by tuberculosis, but in the 20 years allotted him for writing, his emphasis on quality gave him a permanent niche in that field of craftsmanship.
A tenth child, Benjamin West, was born prematurely to his Quaker mother in Pennsylvania. Although he did not see a picture until he was six, he became America’s first internationally famous painter. Indians taught him to mix colors, and he made his first brushes with hairs which he plucked from an unwilling cat. Also, although he died before the telegraph was invented, he helped invent it.
When Morse was young he went to London to study painting under West in the Royal Academy. The student made a drawing of the dying Hercules statue and showed it to West.
“That is a good start. Go on and finish it,” West told him.
“But I thought it was finished,” the student replied with surprise.
‘"Those finger joints are not clear,” West continued. “And it needs more work here and here.”
A week later the student reported
again; the finger joints were now as real as life. “That’s an improvement. Now go on and finish it.”
Morse wanted to smash the drawing over West’s head. Dejectedly, he worked for three more days on it.
“Now you have learned your lesson and I will not try you longer,” West said with a benevolent smile. It is not a batch of half-finished drawings, but one thoroughly finished, that marks the craftsman, West added.
That was the way Benjamin West made Samuel F. B. Morse emphasize quality in his painting. This lesson helped Morse develop the telegraph as a side activity to his painting. His first telegraph worked the first time he tried
it—painstaking quality, not fast-andfurious trial and error.
Quality workers always accomplish more than the fast-and-furious workers. A panic of activity leaves behind many errors to be corrected, work to ¡ be done a second and third time.
The quality worker plows straight ahead. No retracing steps.
The fast-and-furious worker hits the high spots, leaves much neglected or half-finished.
The quality worker gets things done j —and done right.
Give your emphasis to quality, j Quality brings speed.
The quality way is the easiest way in the long run.
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