I think four things need to happen for me to do anything with high quality:
- I’m exposed to what good quality looks like.
- I understand the details of what I’m doing.
- I can afford to spend resources e.g. time, money on it.
- There’s an incentive for spending resources on it.
Each one is a precondition for the next, which means I’m more likely to do something with quality if I have ⓵ and ⓶ than if I have ⓷ and ⓸.
The most quality thing in my life right now is my design work and I think it improved a lot because all four requirements aligned.
- ✅ I’ve always been inspired by great work from all over the world. I can sniff out good work from a continent away.
- ✅ I started reading a lot of fundamentals and it has helped to improve my understanding and articulation of design.
- ✅ I’m paid quite well and can work remotely and flexibly. No unreasonable deadlines are ever imposed on me.
- ✅ I get both the dopamine hit of creating beautiful things and the reputational, financial, e.t.c. rewards of being recognized as someone who does quality work.
This simple analogy is how I understand why my UX work today is better than my commercial graphic design work from 2010 till 2014. When I practised graphic design I didn’t have a great ⓵ and ⓶, so I could never have exceeded a certain quality bar. Although I spent a lot of time on work ⓷ and was naturally incentivized to get better because of my obsessive nature ⓸, that wasn’t enough. I just didn’t know enough to do any better.
I like to also extend this thought process to other people. For example, I believe the average Lagos person drives really badly because they don’t have any of the four preconditions, as in:
- ❌ Roads are generally bad, signs are very inconsistent and virtually everyone else on the road drives unpredictably.
- ❌ Many drivers genuinely have no concept of lanes, road signs, right of way, e.t.c. Even when you go to a driving school, it’s easy to forget if you never get to use the knowledge.
- ❌ Many drivers can’t afford the education or standard of living necessary to realize that creating new lanes, for example, isn’t sharp. They’re saving a little personal time by flouting the rules but adding to the larger traffic situation.
- ❌ There’s no incentive to drive well since there’s hardly any punishment for driving badly.
100% of Lagos drivers will drive badly at some point. Even if you have a good understanding of how roads work ⓶, are patient ⓷, and want to drive well for personal reasons ⓸, without a quality driving environment ⓵, you will drive nonsense.
With roads, not much can be done personally to change the environment, but with other things, there definitely is.
In the past few years, I’ve been exposed to more quality than ever: cities at the bleeding edge of human progress, organizations that run at the highest level of human efficiency, friends who care how things were made before buying them, coworkers who will break their backs to deliver good service, e.t.c.
All of this has taken a positive toll on my character and now I’m obsessed with keeping everything about me high-quality. Unfortunately, I also live in a low-quality country where the culture is to put in the barest minimum. To get quality from people, I need to learn what quality means for myself and then teach it. I have to be fully involved, as in:
- When I ask for any work to get done, I make sure to clearly show or describe the expected outcome. In a country where ultramodern means jack shit, it’s safe to assume many people, myself included, don’t know what “well done” looks like for many things.
- I have conversations with people to make sure they understand the fundamentals of what they’re doing. My AC guy, for example, seems genuinely excited to talk to me about the technical details of his job. If they can’t articulate what they’re going to do, then I know not to expect much.
- I let people know I’m willing to pay a little more for attention to detail. For example, it may take 30 minutes to plaster a wall Nigerian style but 1 hour to plaster it neatly. I let them know early that they can afford to spend the extra time doing things better.
- In making sure ⓵, ⓶ and ⓷ are sorted, I like to think I’ve done my part. If this person still goes on to do it any less than the expected outcome, then they must either take a pay cut or redo the work. Your incentive is that you’re working for a mad person.
I’ve been on this mindset for a few weeks now, and I can already tell that it will be hard. It may even come to define me, but I don’t mind. About a week ago (week ago), I forced myself to drive back to a restaurant to replace stale food. Normally I’d just throw the food away, but new me needed them to know and fix it. I’ve been converted.
I will do whatever is needed to inspire people to do things a little better, even if just for me. How do I like my things? Well done.