On quality, business, sport and the arts

Football pitch near Ke Ga, Vietnam

By Grant Hall.  Founder of League Cultural Diplomacy

My business, League Cultural Diplomacy (LCD) operates at the intersection where business meets culture.

Sport and the arts are both part of what we call “culture”.

Business, sport and the arts have a lot to learn from each other.

You might think that the three separate realms are completely different.

I have many friends who like football and many friends who like the theatre – mostly they are different groups of friends.  The people I go to the football with generally aren’t the same people I go to the theatre with.

However, the aspects that I find enjoyable about business, sport and the arts are much the same.

Practitioners in all three fields are striving for the same thing; quality.

I have read Robert M. Pirsig’s novels, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila countless times.  In these books Pirsig threads philosophical viewpoints through semi-autobiographical stories.  Pirsig’s writings investigate the concept of quality – addressing questions like what is quality and how do we know it when we see it?

Much of the philosophical side of Pirsig’s writings are complicated; some years ago I spent many months obsessively trying to better understand what he was on about.

Although Pirsig cautions against trying to define it, from his writings I concluded the following definition of quality:

Quality is the opposite of wastage

It’s a definition that works for me in a practical sense and helps me to put things into perspective.

Consider this definition of quality being the opposite of wastage in a business sense.  A high quality business operation has minimal waste; resources are optimally utilised to achieve the business objective.  In a quality business, employees aren’t sitting around doing nothing or undertaking tasks that aren’t assisting in achieving the objectives of the business and likewise, money isn’t wasted on items that don’t assist in the achievement of business objectives.

Think about this idea of quality in terms of sports.  Sporting teams also have objectives and usually that objective is to win.  Like a business, a football team deploys it’s assets to achieve objectives.  The highest quality football teams use their resources in the most efficient (or least wasteful) way possible.  We often hear of contestants or teams described as ‘quality’ or as being ‘businesslike’.  Efficiency is a statistic used in many sporting competitions – the efficiency statistic is a measure of quality.

Think about this idea of quality vs wastage in terms of the arts.  Think about the really great works of art; Beethoven’s Fifth, the Mona Lisa – what would you add or take away or change to improve these works?  Nothing!  That is because the artist has utilised the available resources (mainly their own mental and creative capacities) in such a way that there is no wastage.  Take for example F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, which is often described as ‘efficiently written’ – every character adds value to the plot, every chapter is necessary – there’s nothing you can cull!

This is why the arts and sport are so important in a child’s education – it’s where they can see and experience and get to know quality and learn how to build quality for themselves.

Well, that’s how I see the world anyway.  My decision making is guided by this concept of quality vs. wastage.  I hope that gives you some understanding about how I approach my work.

I’d like to leave you today with the following video that contains some reading from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Maybe I’ve watched it 1,000 times of the 2,500 times it’s been viewed!  The message that is contained within is highly pertinent to business, sport and the arts.  It’s also a good example of how artistic expression can deliver multiple messages with multiple meanings simultaneously, yet remain open to interpretation – a powerful concept that cultural diplomacy can tap into to deliver corporate messages.  I hope you like the vid as much as I do and please, let me know what you think.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Interesting thought put in to words nicely! I wish i could put my thoughts on paper like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Grant Hall says:

      Thanks for you kind words – I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time!

      – Grant


  2. Very interesting – and, while I completely agree that the arts are all about QUALITY (and that is why they are so important in education and as part of our culture) I have to disagree with your (Persig’s) definition. I don’t think that quality really has anything to do with efficiency. Nor does the analogy with sport hold up to scrutiny. In sport, the objective is winning – which could well be the result of efficiency, or of better imagination, or greater determination or even just luck. Quality could be mentioned in terms of sportsmanship – or perhaps elegance – but that is a minor factor in the way we rate our sportsmen/women or teams. As far as the arts are concerned, I prefer to put it this way:- How do we define “Art”? For me, what makes art “Art” is the fact that the processes of creating, recreating and appreciating it are essentially determined by decisions about quality. In other words, nothing is right or wrong, everything is better or worse. Quality is entirely subjective – and we may all have different opinions about the quality of any aspect of any work of art – but it is the degree to which the artist/performer is successful and convincing in the decisions they make about how they create or perform their work that determines its success or quality as a work of art.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Grant Hall says:

    Hi Xenophon, Thanks very much for your insightful comments. I feel a bit uncomfortable talking about the arts in terms of ‘efficiency’ and ‘winning’ myself, but this is a business blog written with a business audience in mind and these are understood terms. The arts are clearly about much more than winning and efficiency. Efficiency though is a part of art and thankfully only a part – imagine a world dominated by the Minimalists! But then, I can’t name a truly great work of art that is inefficient. For many artists winning is what it is all about though – but this largely depends on the mindset they adopt when they are in the creative process. When an author is in the process of writing a novel, they might see the task as a battle and when they have finished the novel and it’s at a point where they can declare the work as ‘finished’ or ‘ready’ they might congratulate themselves because they ‘won’ the battle. Much art is created by individuals plugging away alone in front of a canvas or a computer screen and it’s a competition against themselves. You correctly say that “in sport, the objective is winning – which could well be the result of efficiency, or of better imagination, or greater determination or even just luck” – I would counter that arts is exactly the same, when considered from the viewpoint of an artist in the midst of creating a work. I like your statement “the processes of creating, recreating and appreciating it (art) are essentially determined by decisions about quality” – it’s a good argument for why businesses should engage with the arts and artists. I love your name too -very philosophical!


  4. Anonymous says:

    and example of Quality in the Arts

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Grant Hall says:

    Thanks for posting the dance video of the Hybrid Movement Company – I love it. I’ve been lucky enough through my work as a producer to spend time with professional dancers and observe their rehearsals and preparation. Both quality and efficiency can be observed in the way they prepare and perform. When dancers rehearse they have to be physically efficient so that when they perform they can maximise their physical abilities to meet the requirements of the work – for example, they might not rehearse certain moves with the same physicality that they will deploy on stage. A dancer that busts a knee cap by unnecessarily rehearsing too hard has been wasteful and has reduced quality. Dance students learn techniques to prolong their dance careers which brings them quality by reducing the amount of wastage caused by injury. When I watch the video you posted I see a great deal of quality – I mean, think of all the things that one can waste and tell me what any of the dancers here are wasting? Are they wasting time, opportunity, money or movement for example? Clearly not. Dancer’s bodies are also examples of quality, nothing is wasted in what they eat or in their training and it shows in their muscular frames which are maximised to the application of their dancing tasks.


  6. Grant Hall says:

    You can also join the conversation on LinkedIn: http://tinyurl.com/mexvcep


  7. Hi Grant. Yes, some impressive high-quality dancing indeed – but I still think your definition or usage of the word QUALITY is too quantitative. I don’t really think that quality has got anything to do with wastage or efficiency – either in the arts or any any other walk of life. A quality product (let’s say a really good car) is not one that has been made more efficiently, or with less wastage – nor is it necessarily one that performs more efficiently. In the arts, I would still maintain that “quality” comes from taking the greatest possible care to make sure that every aspect of the work is created or performed as well as possible in order to convey the meaning or create the effect intended, to the maximum degree. In dance – every movement should be considered. Does it work better if it is done faster, or slower, bigger or smaller? How well does every movement and gesture tell the story or create the mood or impression desired? How well does each movement relate to or reflect the music being used? In this particular video, that would be my only criticism – the music does not seem to me to have a lot to say and the dance doesn’t seem to have a great deal to do with the music. However, that is my own, personal, subjective opinion. It may well be that the composer, choreographer and dancers wanted to convey a dreamy, fantasy atmosphere with no particular purpose other than to demonstrate the amazing capabilities of the human body. In that they were certainly successful but, for me, for the reasons above, it is lacking in quality as a work of art. Others may think otherwise – there is no right or wrong, just better or worse.
    Incidentally, I wish my name did confer an element of philosophical wisdom – but i just happen to be partly Greek and it is a family name passed down through generations.


  8. Grant Hall says:

    Hi Xenophon,

    Nice to hear back from you. With apologies I had incorrectly assumed your name was an alias!

    “Real” philosophers (ie: people who unlike me have taken college courses in philosophy) hate Pirsig’s writings and say that his philosophy is not a philosophy at all and is maybe at best a pseudo-philosophy. They base their opinions on the subjective/objective thing as well. They are probably right, but I don’t know enough about it to argue with them. Which is why I have presented my definition of quality as “a definition that works for me in a practical sense and helps me to put things into perspective” rather than as a philosophy. As a philosophy, it probably doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, but then no one has scrutinised it! As a way of seeing the world, well, it works for me and might work for others.

    You use the car example and say that ‘a really good is not one that has been made more efficiently, or with less wastage – nor is it necessarily one that performs more efficiently’. But in my quality framework, how a car is made (eg, is less environmental waste formed from the production of the car?) does contribute to the quality of the car. People who work in car manufacturing particularly would understand this interpretation of quality – environmentalists would as well.

    I completely agree with you when you say quality ‘comes from taking the greatest possible care to make sure that every aspect of the work is created or performed as well as possible in order to convey the meaning or create the effect intended, to the maximum degree’. Pirsig would concur and this concept of care is central to his writings. The Mona Lisa was painted over many years and revised over and over again, whilst its creation wasn’t an efficient process, it doesn’t mean the painting is of low quality.

    As for the dance work, one would need to see the work in it’s entirety to deliver a worthy fully informed judgment, which, at the end of the day, others might totally disagree with!

    All the best, and thanks for the dialogue.


  9. Lindar says:

    Opera isn’t highly “efficient” taking hours to tell simple stories, huge casts, dancers, orchestra and chorus, to say nothing of the divas!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Grant Hall says:

      Hi Lindar,

      Thanks for joining us.

      Big or complex doesn’t necessarily mean inefficient or low quality. If this were the case we could say Dickens is terrible – but we know this is not the case. Consider efficiency from the viewpoint of the artist. It took Wagner 26 years to write the libretto for The Ring Cycle (a very lengthy and complex work in all facets), but I’m sure Wagner wouldn’t have considered The Ring to be inefficient and neither would we. Efficiency from the artist’s perspective is about their ability to deliver their artistic intentions. Artistic intentions of course will vary from artist to artist and work to work.

      If they asked contestants on Family Feud “What are things that can be wasted?” they might say “money”, “time”, “space” or “opportunity”. Artists don’t wisely waste opportunities in their work to convey their messages or evoke the intended ‘feel’. I remember a remarkable chapter in a Steinbeck novel where two characters jump on the wrong train, realise their error, get off the train and take another train back to their starting point. During this chapter they have a discussion that doesn’t appear essential to the plot. It could be argued that this chapter is inefficient but the opposite is true – Steinbeck wanted to convey something of the mundaneness of the lives of the two characters and did so efficiently.

      When it comes to opera you might ask “is opera a waste of time, or money or human endeavor?” I think you’d probably agree it isn’t! Opera is a quality endeavor and one of the ways we know we are civilised.


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