Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Quality" and "Excellence" in entertainment

I've been thinking about the following idea for a number of years now. Below I post my original brainstorming write-up, and would be very interested in others' reactions. I ought to update and propose this to my professional society, ASQ, the American Society for Quality. This organization administers the federal Baldrige National Quality Program, and, often in collaboration with other technical societies such as ISO, IEEE, ASTD, ASME, etc, has a hand in writing many of the world's consensus technical, engineering, scientific, and "quality" standards.

Now that I'm involved with cats that fully personify the term "excellence," the idea seems more timely than ever.

The American Society for Quality
Entertainment & Sports Division (ASQ/ESD)

by Bobby Gladd, past Chairman, Las Vegas ASQ Section 705

I have been an active and enthusiastic member of the Society (http://www.asq.org/) since 1989, and have served in a number of local officer positions as well as helping to found and lead the kindred Nevada Quality Alliance (http://www.nvqa.org/, administrator of the Nevada Governor's Awards for Performance Excellence). While I generally agree with our ASQ Vision and Strategic Plan, I see a huge overlooked service area and significant opportunity, one successfully addressed by the explicit inclusion of the large, dynamic, and growing entertainment and sports domains (E&S) at the ASQ Division level, one perhaps headquartered in booming, vibrant Las Vegas.

ASQ has for many years had 22 formal Divisions representing a breadth of manufacturing and service industries:
  1. Quality Management Division
  2. Aviation, Space and Defense Division
  3. Automotive Division
  4. Chemical and Process Industries Division
  5. Electronics and Communications Division
  6. Textile and Needle Trades Division
  7. Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Division
  8. Reliability Division
  9. Inspection Division
  10. Biomedical Division
  11. Energy and Environmental Division
  12. Statistics Division
  13. Human Development and Leadership Division
  14. Software Division
  15. Customer-SupplierDivision
  16. Service Quality Division
  17. Measurement Quality Division
  18. Health Care Division
  19. Quality Audit Division
  20. Design and Construction Division
  21. Education Division
  22. Public Sector Network
There is a lot of interest area overlap, and many among the more than 100,000 members belong to multiple Divisions and Interest Groups. I, for example, am a member of the Healthcare and Statistics divisions, while my ASQ colleague and spouse Cheryl belongs to the Quality Management, Quality Audit, and Environmental & Energy divisions. It should be readily apparent that those in E&S organizations would find relevant technical and management information and support in ASQ Divisions such as Customer-Supplier, Design and Construction, Electronics and Communications, Human Development and Leadership, Inspection, Measurement Quality, Quality Audit, Quality Management, Service Quality, and Statistics.

NOTE: One of our kindred professional societies, the American Statistical Association (which I joined in 1998, to my subsequent great delight), operates a "Division" known as the Statistics in Sports Section.

There are, to be sure, broad operational similarities -- E&S organizations, after all, make things and provide services as do any businesses; they all want to "win", at the box office, on their bottom lines, on the charts, in the arenas and on the playing fields -- but, the E&S domains differ significantly in many ways from the rest of business culture.

Take, for example, today's independent major motion picture production. It is the very essence of the transient "virtual corporation," one that must deal effectively with myriad financial, human resource, logistical, creative, and technical difficulties comparable to those encountered on, say, an aircraft assembly line -- without any of the relative stability and market predictability of such other business sectors. And, when things go badly, a lot of people lose a lot of money and career credibility. Read Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven's Gate by Steven Bach (1985, Onyx, ISBN 0-451-40036-4). Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate was the first of the out-of-control mega-budget movies. It was a project management fiasco of excess proportion sufficient to send the venerable United Artists studio into bankruptcy.

Similar stories of woe are readily and recurrently found in the TV and music recording/performance fields. Countless millions of dollars and human energy are poured into projects that go awry or otherwise fail to meet their visions and promise. Why? Is the only viable business model here one of “throw everything continually at the wall and something is bound to stick”?

Such presents an exciting opportunity for ASQ to serve effectively. And, if we consider the converse of the foregoing for just a moment, it is equally clear that when things go right in E&S, the results are frequently spectacular and inspiring. In addition to celebrating such successes, we have an opportunity to look more closely and learn from them.


Sports are our entertainment to a significant degree, whether from spectator or participant perspectives. The sports and sports/"recreation" industries account for a large chunk of the worldwide entertainment dollar. One need only consider the 30-second ad rate for the NFL Super Bowl, or take a stroll through any of the sporting goods superstores, or try to find a square centimeter of racing car bodies not covered by corporate & product logos. Moreover, in the context of the argument presented herein, the "performance" sectors of entertainment and sports domains have a lot in common, while -- again -- together they are different to a significant degree from the rest of the economic sectors, most notably in their structural and managerial fluidity and short-term strategic and financial imperatives. It is telling in this regard that law schools are now providing curricular tracks in Entertainment & Sports Law. Another example: Findlaw.com lists numerous legal firms specializing in E&S services.

That aside, consider our pro sports and entertainment icons: Shaq (part-time rapper) and ex-minor leaguer #23 PGA-wannabee Michael have done movies. Bull Durham's Kevin Costner is a fine athlete, as are White Men Can't Jump's Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson. Country music superstar Garth Brooks, who appeared with the San Diego padres in spring training several years ago and then signed with the new York Mets to train with their minor league team in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Country Music’s Toby Keith played minor league football. And on and on...

Beyond professional sports "entertainment" celebrities, at the mundane street level, those of us who are inveterate recreational gym rats, hackers, duffers, and devotees of every amateur sports stripe want desperately to improve our serves, shots, batting and bowling averages, lap times, lipid and body fat ratios, weightlifting capabilites, endurance, and overall effectiveness on our fields, courts, courses, and rinks. We want the equipment we buy to be both durable and useful. As parents, we want our kids mentored by coaches with solid understanding of sound organizational / motivational principles as well as things tactical and strategic within the lines. We all just wanna have fun, and fun ("customer satisfaction") is in large measure a function of knowing we've done our best, and know how to best continue with improvement.


We in ASQ have as much to learn from E&S'ers as do they from us. On one hand, those in charge of the still largely vertical organizational structures and command & control/management-by-whim cultures so characteristic of much of of the "talent/performance" management side of E&S will clearly benefit through dialogue with quality professionals and education in proven, systematic improvement theory and practice. Conversely, the unbridled creative energy and drive of E&S cannot but be good for ASQ. We could very well see a significant influx of enthusiastic new members eager to enage in what would be an obvious win/win. Moreover, the more traditional manufacturing sectors of E&S (e.g., Nike, Reebok, Wilson, Spalding, Calloway, Keiser, Avid, Altman, Yamaha, Peavey, to cite just a very few), might well be more likely to participate in ASQ had they the forum of 'their own" primary Society Division through which to come together in the interest of industry improvement and networking with those on the "creative/performance" side of the house. Once on board, such new colleagues would surely also fan out through existing ASQ Divisions of individual interest and relevance.

Div23 Downsides?

Well, I can imagine a couple of possibilities right off the bat. First, while "23" provides a convenient and serendipitous marketing hook coupled to a universally beloved celebrity, it necessarily positions sports on the front burner and implies that His retired Airness Michael is minimally primus inter pares ("first among equals"). But, Steve Wynn's people probably regard him as the preeminent impresario of the "entertainment" domain (broadly defined, and of which sports might be viewed as subsidiary). One would also likely get a huge vote for filmmaker Steven Spielberg as "the Michael Jordan of the movie biz." And, Disney's Michael Eisner probably regards himself as Da Man. So, would Division 23 need an emblematic photo depicting a trio of honorary co-chairs (or more -- including some women pul-eeze!) who collectively exemplify leadership excellence across the E&S sectors?

Next, how proactively inclusive should an E&S Division 23 be? Hunting is viewed as a "sport" by many and barbaric cruelty by many others. Indeed, firearms "sports" have in general become controversial in the wake of recent mass killings in schools and workplaces. Would we take sponsorship or underwriting money from groups such as the NRA? Smith & Wesson? (More generally, those major sporting event sponsors, the tobacco and beer companies?) "Adult Entertainment"? Jeesh. the likes of a Larry Flynt as an ESD Sustaining Member? Preposterous perhaps, but how about a Christie Hefner?

Regarding Steve Wynn et al: Gaming? Innocent "entertainment"? Or the egregious social ill that some would like severely curtailed if not banned outright? Consider sports gambling; Congress continues to look at banning sports betting; a perennial controversy. Hot in 2005, 2006, Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournaments on ESPN (ESPN even produced a fictional poker tournament-mimicking mini-series, Tilt).

"Extreme Sports"? Wa-a-a-yyy cool, Du-u-u-ude.

How about what many consider "junk sports" that are little more than lowbrow entertainment cloaked in mere outward trappings of "sport"? I once saw a cable channel "tough man competition" show originating from Birmingham, Alabama. Called "The Octagon" (for the shape of the wire-enclosed "ring" -- a cage, actually), it was nothing more than a bloody, grotesque human cockfight. [UPDATE: cheesy "Ultimate Fighting Championship" events are now commonplace.]

E&S online

A quick, cursory check online reveals literally thousands of E&S domain organizations with an internet presence. For example, just examine some of the listings maintained by Yahoo.com alone:
We find pro and amateur sports leagues of every stripe, trade associations, technical and professional societies, performing rights organizations, guilds, journals, consultants, and affinity groups of every size and scope. Add in the equally numerous vendors of E&S products and services, and the enormous magnitude of this economic sector is obvious. It constitutes a significant ASQ service opportunity we should engage forthwith.

Full disclosure

Aside from my simple belief that this ASQ/ESD proposition is timely and sensible on its merits, my motive in proposing this is multifaceted, and contains a bit of tangential "self-interest." First, I am one of those "inveterate gym rats." I was a three-sport high school athlete, but by the time I reached my early 40's my by-then sedentary worklife had left me woefully out of shape. In 1988 my primary physician at the time told me "son I'd advise you to get out and start moving around, or buy more life insurance." Well, that got my attention. Now, at age 61, I try to spend 7 - 10 hours a week in the gym, mostly playing full-court 5-on-5 pickup basketball and lifting weights. My resting pulse has dropped to around 50, and I'm close to my high school weight. My Son calls me "The Energizer Geezer" in response to my ability to go full-tilt for hours without tiring much.

Were I a wealthy man, I'd probably stay in gym clothes most of the time, and attend every sports clinic / fantasy camp offered. I took up downhill skiing in 1995 (awesome!), and will take up rec league ice hockey one of these days (there’s a long waiting list here to get on a team). I love to play tennis. Golf? I've played one "real" round -- at Pinehurst, no less, with my Dad, where I spent most of the day in the woods. Got around in 108, though; it coulda been worse. I'll have to give it another try before long. We have rec league hardball baseball here as well as softball. Man, I’d do that too in a heartbeat (leftie, first baseman as a kid). Sailing? I recall wonderful days of my young adulthood crashing around San Francisco Bay and the nearby Pacific with friends in a rented 32' sloop, hanging on in white-knuckle-death-gripped, thoroughly soaked exhilaration as we heeled "winch under" into pounding whitecaps.

While I don't hunt, I do love to hike, camp, and fish. (Though my empathic tendency toward recognizing the fish's point of view gives me somewhat of a problem with the ostensible humaneness of "catch & release." Wetting a line for fresh groceries with fins is another matter, on the other hand.)

Also, with a Son on the JV football team at Bishop Gorman High School not too many years ago, I became one of THOSE parents -- one of the ranting, omniscient Monday-Morning-QB / coaching staff critics who hang out at the practices and trek to every game. One of those who pine for a little less macho bluster / instruction-by-intimidation and a little more John Wooden-esqe quiet yet firm leadership for their kids.

In short, I love sports, from the couch potato, parental, and participant points of view.

Second, prior to acquiring my first university degree at the age of 39 and embarking on a new white collar career (and joining ASQ in 1989), I made my living with a guitar in my hand, spending 21 years in music performance and recording. My roots in pop music run deep. I also studied film design and technical theater electives (lighting and set design) while at the University of Tennessee, and was a member of and local officer with the International Television Association in Knoxville, TN in the late 80's at a time when I was a partner in a small A/V studio. I maintain a keen interest in the creative media and live entertainment arts and sciences. I marvel at the incredible blending of creativity, talent, and technology that results in a fine motion picture, and I'm always noting -- in addition to the quality of the writing and acting -- the nuances of set and lighting, the framing of each shot, the optics, and the camera movements, the editing rhythms, the subtleties of the audio track, and the usually powerful emotive propulsion of the music score. More generally, I have to admire and respect the dedication of participants in the commercial arts, an often unforgiving domain where a steady and livable paycheck can be difficult to come by.

In Las Vegas, where I have lived since 1992, we are blessed to have legions of world-class entertainers and shows (supported by an army of technical production wizards of the first rank). Our nightlife is simply the best in the world for its sheer quantity, depth, and diversity. As an aside, anyone wanting an inexpensive peek at our breathtaking local music excellence need only go on Mondays nights to listen to the stunning Santa Fe and The Fat City Horns, a 14-pc ensemble of the finest Vegas show musicians/singers/writers who play together for the pure love of music on Mondays in what is their incredible “dress-down/casual gig” night, to a cheering room full of mostly other enthusiastic Vegas performers and their friends. You’d easily pay $100 a ticket for concert music this good. Santa Fe will set you back the cost of a drink. Amazing…[to be continued]

Well, maybe I ought drop the "23" idea, and just stay with "Entertainment and Sports Division." Dunno. For one thing, since I wrote the foregoing the Society has changed its classification taxonomy; we no longer tout 22 "Divisions." Secondly, getting Michael on board as the flagship persona may be a huge long shot, for a variety of reasons.

Still, I think this could be a very cool, value-adding thing.
And, I know who will be the Official Band of Division 23, LOL!

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