I had a job a long time ago as the Training Manager at a company that was going through the ISO 9000 certification process. For those who are unfamiliar with that process, it is an auditing system that focuses on the internal working of a company – looking not at whether a company is involved in “best practices” but rather whether a company is articulating and following clearly defined practices and procedures. I summed it up at the time as being able to do three things:
1) Say what you do.
2) Do what you say.
3) Prove it.
This process highlights for a company its internal consistency and the comprehensiveness of its formal operating procedures. Phrased a bit differently than my summary above, it can be stated as a series of questions:
1) Are you able to articulate exactly what you do – and exactly how you do it?
2) Do you actually do what you say you do – in the way that you say you do it?
3) Can you prove to others that you actually do what you have said you do?
That job was instructive to me, as one of my central roles in the process was to systematize all of the written records into a cohesive and simple format – including the creation of operational and training manuals that could be used to evaluate and address the performance of existing employees and train new employees. It was important that all employees be held to objective standards – and that all employees be judged and rewarded according to the same standards. It also highlighted something that came to be central to how I view all organizations, how they compete for business and how they are viewed from the outside by both consumers and competitors.
In the area of internal oversight of operations, there have been many programs over the years that have been created to focus on and increase a company’s standing as a “quality organization” (however that is defined). Historically, these programs can be separated into two types of emphasis: 1) quality control; and 2) quality assurance. They are similar in many ways, but the key difference is in the focus on who is observing the company and making the judgment – and how that affects the internal operations of the organization.
With quality control, the effort is focused inward. It is an attempt to “control” things internally so that mistakes are handled quickly and efficiently – in a way that will not derail the quality of the end product. It is similar to “damage control”. It is a natural fit for many companies who manufacture products – whose “business operations” are seen only as a function of the final product that is sold to consumers. In this sense, it looks for what has always worked and clings tightly to an established production system – or approaches change only in terms of how it will help produce the established product more cheaply (at a lower cost). “Innovation” is a product of “streamlining” – determining what can be eliminated without harming the final product.
Quality assurance, on the other hand, is focused outward. It is an attempt to “assure” consumers of the quality of something they have not purchased – and, often, that is more intangible in nature. Companies that provide services fit this category, but so do companies whose products and services are more expensive than others in their field. Of particular relevance are those companies that combine an expensive product with a service on which the success of that product depends – like software that requires extensive and complex training. Due to the more complex nature of the sales pitch, these companies are looking constantly for a new way to frame their company, making them less likely to rely on “tried and true” methodology and corporate philosophy and more on “innovation” and “evolving business practices” – which manifests itself in looking for things that will alter the final product in a significant way, even if that means adding cost to the production process.
Quality assurance is most relevant to companies who sell largely based on differentiated promised returns (providing either more or different results to the consumer), while quality control is perfectly fine for most simple commodities that will be used in the exact same way as those produced by competitors. Quality assurance is important for companies making radical claims about their products and/or services; quality control is enough for those who simply are claiming to make the same finished product – and it is most effective when the company simply is selling the same product for a lower price. (“This is cheaper, but the quality is just as good as the more expensive options.”) Quality control is much easier to manage, and much easier to implement, than quality assurance – but once you’ve seen the benefits of a personal trainer, it’s hard to go back to “just” free weights and sit-ups.
How does this relate to religions?
Within Christianity, there are two types of religions: 1) those that share a fundamental foundation and, therefore, don’t try much to distinguish “major” differences between themselves and other denominations; and 2) those that base their very identity on “major” differences. This distinction affects how each type of denomination “views” and “markets” itself – and how each type views the purpose of its internal auditing, if you will.
The first type focuses primarily on an internal analysis of effectiveness – which translates into a firm and unyielding grasp on ideas that have worked in the past (on the unchanging and immutable). Creedal denominations that cling tightly to the past can be viewed as commodity producers – organizations that are trying to reproduce something that has been produced for years, perhaps with a few unique bells and whistles but relatively indistinguishable from other creedal denominations. They are focused on quality control – tightly managing the parameters of production and closed to “major change” in the process of that production, and, more importantly, to “major changes” to the product itself. After all, if the finished product is perfect (and perfectly understood) already, why would the denomination even consider radical changes to it?
The second type, however, is based explicitly on its differences – differences that are harder to grasp and need to be introduced and explained (and justified) prior to “purchase”. This type requires a higher level of investment (is more “expensive”) and, therefore, it must be more aware of “market trends” – be more flexible and adaptable and able to inspire a differentiating vision to justify the consumers’ investment. These religions are willing to make significant changes in how they view the end product – to produce a radically different product that will inspire potential consumers as times change.
Most interestingly, perhaps, is the relationship of these organizations historically. Creedal religions in established areas tend to compete with other splinters for those that don’t possess the fundamental “commodity”, while non-creedal religions tend to compete for the attention of those who are not satisfied with commodities – whether or not they currently own the “commodity”. Hence, the creedal religions tend to focus missionary outreach programs primarily on non-creedal populations, while non-creedal religions tend to focus missionary outreach programs on all – including creedal populations. This fundamental difference alone explains much of the tension when Mormonism sends missionaries door to door in areas where nearly everyone already “possesses” the fundamental commodity of Christianity.
Mormonism isn’t selling a commodity; it is selling a high-priced and unique “turn-key” system, and once a turn-key system is experienced it’s hard to go back to using a standard commodity – even if the turn-key system is discarded in search of another one. Many people who invest great amounts of time, energy and money into a vision that is built on going beyond the common (“commodities”) aren’t satisfied anymore by the common (“commodities”), so if they can’t find an acceptable alternative turn-key system, all that is left is to obsess over the perceived deficiencies in one they left behind.