Quality Control and Israel

The title “Quality Control” may not sound like an interesting topic, but David Rosenblatt gave it the title “If you will it, it is no fairy tale – Israeli business in relation to Israel’s history,” but what he was really talking about was quality control (QC).

As an introduction he pointed out that Theodore Herzl wrote the pamphlet “Der Judenstaat” (The Jewish State) in 1896 as a blueprint for a Jewish State.  He also said “if you will it, it is no fairy tale” (or “dream”).  And he wrote in his diary after the First Zionist Congress in Basle in 1897, “today I founded the Jewish State.”  In fact, it took only 52 years for this “dream” to come true.  So in fact, Rosenblatt asserted, Israel was the first country founded according to a definite plan (some might say the US was also founded on a dream and with a plan, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but that’s another matter).  But, what went wrong?

In reality, the smooth transition after the founding of the State in 1948 was disrupted, what happened was first the Holocaust, then the War of Independence and then the Six Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the First Lebanon War of 1982.  All these trials for the new State engendered an attitude of “flying by the seat of your pants” in other words, lack of careful prior planning, known in Israel by the immortal phrase “yihiye b’seder” (everything will be OK).  It was this attitude which maybe fostered the Israeli attribute of innovation and to some extent arrogance, the surety, after the victories of ’48, ’67, and ’73 of invincibility.

Yet, the signs were there, the sheer incompetence of the intelligence service of ignoring the warning signs and the clear evidence of an Egyptian attack in 1973.  This was a case of ignoring careful consideration of the facts in favor of a biased sense of “I know better.”  Then the mistakes in 1982, that nearly led to a break-up of the ruling government between Begin and Sharon, who ignored orders and did what he felt was best.  Relying on instinct rather than careful planning and analysis.

It was PM Yitzhak Rabin who in 1992 delivered a speech in which he categorically rejected the “yihiye b’seder” attitude that had dominated Israeli society, for the opposite, a culture of careful planning, considering the facts and then deciding on a course of action and sticking to it.   No more cavalier actions that might win the day, but lose the war.  No more individual acting on the spur of the moment, make a plan and stick to it.  This is where quality control comes in!

Quality control is essentially a feedback loop, in which you make a plan, execute it, see what the results are and then modify the plan to improve the results and continue doing this until it works perfectly.  The idea of applying this kind of process to industry and manufacturing started in the US.  There was the case of the Tucker car, conceived by Preston Tucker, who wanted to make a car according to what customers wanted.  He started in 1948 and produced his first automobile in 1951, but he was essentially forced out of business by the big three car manufacturers.  But, not too many years later they adopted his methodology. The person credited with introducing the concept of quality control was  William E. Deming, based on the earlier work of statistician Walter Shewhart.

The basis of the QC approach is a cycle known as PDSA, plan-do-study-act.  Although this approach was not taken up enthusiastically in the US, Deming was sent to Japan that was recovering from the devastating destruction of WWII.  There he found a  very sympathetic ear, and starting in 1950 his ideas and their implementation was responsible for the amazing regeneration of Japan from a county copying the West to one leading the West in efficient and well-made products.  It was not long before other countries, including the US and Britain had to follow them.  In other words, quality control was widely implemented in all business and manufacturing.

The same thing happened in Israel.  When he was in charge of a small factory producing foodstuffs for the IDF, one day in the early 1990’s Rosenblatt received a notice from the IDF that they would accept no products without guaranteed quality control.  In other words all products had to be tested to ensure they were up to the designated standard before shipping.  This is now the accepted norm in all manufacturing, business, industry and defense.  And Rosenblatt works as a QC adviser.

One quandary that arises in relation to so much control is how does it affect innovation? The culture of “yihiye b’seder‘ lead to an unprecedented blossoming of start-up companies in Israel based on individual innovation.  Quality control would seem to be the opposite of innovation.  Yet, Israel seems to have managed to find a careful balance between ensuring the quality of established products and allowing individuals to express their own ideas through innovation.  This is a difficult balance to maintain.