Clean Business Cuisine


Journal of Business Strategy

ISSN: 0275-6668

Article publication date: 1 August 2004



Mainelli, M. and Harris, l. (2004), "Clean Business Cuisine", Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 25 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Clean Business Cuisine

Clean Business Cuisine Michael Mainelli and Ian Harris, ISBN 1 84059 227 3, price £14.99. For further information, please e-mail: or or telephone: +44 (20) 7562-9562. Z/Yen helps organizations make better choices. The name combines Zen and Yen - "a philosophical desire to succeed" - in a ratio, recognizing that all decisions are trade-offs.

With this issue of Journal of Business Strategy we continue serializing one of the more amusing business books of recent times, even though it is about ancient times. Our thanks to authors Michael Mainelli and Ian Harris for providing this divertimento from their book, Clean Business Cuisine.

Quality is a slippery concept, but crucial to competitive advantage. From the many sects of quality, two broad schools emerge. The first school is based around detailed measurement and process, e.g. Six Sigma or ISO9000. The second school is based around culture and resolve, for instance the philosophy of "total quality management". Quality is everywhere and nowhere. That's where it's at. You can't deconstruct it from the whole – like the grains of sand that make a beach – nor can you always convert the non-believer.

Chapter four: Quality is free

Is it better to travel than to arrive? (from "The Art of Wash").

Whereby quality standards struggle to meet customers' innermost desires while removing foul smells.

One fine day Tai Tso noticed a difference at Chao Kli Ning's laundry. That morning, as usual, he was the first villager to leave his washing. Tai Tso liked to get to work a little before everyone else. He worked at the village noodle factory, as the principal noodle inspector. His main concern was ensuring that noodles were cut to the right length. He appreciated the early mornings to himself, a small cup of tea, a chance to ponder on life's mysteries, some time to read the news. What was different about the laundry? It wasn't the stench in the air. The stench was always there.

Perhaps it was nothing special, but the laundry staff seemed more ardent. The counter woman nearly tore his laundry bundle from him in her enthusiasm to wash it. On his way home, Tai Tso took the time to quiz Lo Fan, the laundry manager. Lo Fan was delighted at Tai Tso's interest and said so.

"I am delighted", said Lo Fan. "What do you think seems different?"

"I don't know, a certain something. The look in the eyes. A smell of fear. I don't know, just different. Come on Lo Fan, is something going on?"

Lo Fan replied proudly, "I didn't expect anyone to notice so quickly, but we have found a new way. The master from the Ganges, Guru Neverminda Widequal, has led the Kwik Klining Duck Tea House and Laundry away from the dualism of Confucianism and Taoism. Now we follow one pure path. The way of Ti Ku".

"What is this Ti Ku, Lo Fan? Is it one of these new ecological washing powders?"

"Certainly not", said Lo Fan, "it goes much deeper than that. Guru Neverminda is a very wise man. A very, very wise man. He is so wise, Kli Ning doesn't understand half the things Guru Neverminda says. But Kli Ning tells us that we should get a detailed grip on the big picture. For instance, Guru Neverminda explained that we should spend much money on printing our customer charter and corporate mission statement. Kli Ning likes the idea of publicizing our new way, but just doesn't like having to pay monastery taxes on idea dissemination".

Tai Tso was puzzled. "What is this customer charter of which you speak?"

Lo Fan grew even more excited and pressed a small, rumpled rice paper scroll into Tai Tso's hand. Tai Tso read aloud, "her long, sensuous legs, wrapped around his massive …"

"… no, not that side. I am sorry, Kli Ning insisted that we use recycled paper from the monastery".

Tai Tso turned the scroll and again began to read.

"We, the dedicated laundry employees of the Kwik Klining Duck Tea House and Laundry, servants of the illustrious Chao Kli Ning, a wise and benevolent businessman with an uncanny knack for spotting an opportunity to make a quick buck, do hereby solemnly pledge to boldly strive at all times, and to the utmost of our ability to:

  • every day, in every way, constantly contemplate our customers' requirements and seek our customers' guidance on innovative, entrepreneurial and totally satisfying ways to meet their needs;

  • endeavor to infinitely improve ourselves and honor our ancestors and thus, in so doing, produce the ultimate service for our community and in our small, modest way make the world in which we live a perfect place for not just ourselves or our immediate descendants but for infinite generations yet unborn; and

  • give good laundry in an utterly excellent manner".

Tai Tso reflected for a few moments and then said, "this is truly an impressive customer charter. Why is this necessary?"

"Between you and me, Tai Tso, Guru Neverminda noticed that we have a few quality problems. Have you ever noticed an unpleasant smell?"

"Oh, hardly at all", said Tai Tso.

"Of course, we have a massive laundry here, employing more than 40 staff. There are bound to be a few small quality problems – a slight odor, the occasional tear, a few minor mix-ups …"

"… like the day the whole village turned out in pink shirts?"

"Oh, that was a minor problem with our bleach. Anyway, I'm talking about more substantial matters. Guru Neverminda says that quality from Ti Ku should be free. By investing more time in avoiding problems, he says, we'll spend much less time correcting errors and losing customers", said Lo Fan.

"If I were upset with you, I would just ask my wife to do the laundry", said Tai Tso.

"That's precisely the point Guru Neverminda made. We must prevent quality failure by having a quality control process that has inspection, standards and external review. For a modest fee, Guru Neverminda was prepared to lend us one of his Ti Ku disciples, Aiso. Aiso is busy hiring for his quality inspectorate, producing procedures manuals, establishing performance standards, formulating quality measures and devising quality checklists. With Aiso's help, we expect to be able to break down and understand the individual components of quality in our laundry".

"None of this sounds free to me", said Tai Tso. "I couldn't see this Ti Ku stuff working at the noodle factory. People love our noodles without a quality control process. Anyway, can I have my laundry. I really need to get home".

When he got home, Tai Tso sorted his clean laundry and as usual found one or two of those irritating brown stains that were Kli Ning's trademark. Now that he knew that Lo Fan really cared, he felt it was his duty as a loyal customer to raise the matter with Lo Fan. On the morrow, the counter woman glumly handed Tai Tso a customer complaint form. He wanted to complete the form there and then, but was stymied on the first question; batch and reference number? He took the form to the office and rummaged in the waste basket for his old receipt. Lo Fan wasn't there when Tai Tso dropped off the form on his way home. The counter woman glumly accepted it and annoyingly said, "may the Ti Ku be with you".

Tai Tso met a cheery Lo Fan the next morning. Lo Fan thanked him profusely for taking the time to submit a properly completed complaint form, although Lo Fan indicated a few non-conformities where Tai Tso had failed to use the correct date format. Tai Tso bridled at Lo Fan's suggestion that he consider a refresher course on his handwriting.

"Lo Fan, this complaint is not about my handwriting", said Tai Tso. "What are you going to do about my laundry?"

"We're not sure that we have a problem yet, but let me tell you where we are in our investigation. Aiso was delighted that we now have an opportunity to deal with a real quality issue. Guru Neverminda says that receiving a customer complaint is half way to achieving the quality improvement of Ti Ku. Without complaints you cannot measure your progress. We're feeling better already".

"Yes, but what about the brown stains?"

"Ah, those", said Lo Fan, "so far, Aiso feels that we have followed our existing procedures perfectly. Most importantly, the stains were duly noted on the packing checklist. Nevertheless, Aiso believes that maybe our ironing checklist could go a bit further. There isn't a stain tickbox for ironing, and Aiso blames himself totally for this unforgivable oversight. Guru Neverminda has even suggested that we consider including our quality checklist in your laundry bundles to demonstrate our commitment to quality. Once these minor improvements are made, Guru Neverminda assures us that we are close to knowing the components of quality".

"Lo Fan, I'm pleased that things are working so well for you, but what about the brown stains?"

"Oh, don't worry, now that we nearly have the process right, Guru Neverminda tells us that the content is sure to follow. Further, Aiso has suggested that we send a letter promptly to all complainants. You should receive yours within a week or so. Have a Ti Ku day".

Three weeks later, a disgruntled Tai Tso opened a letter from Kli Ning's laundry. "Thank you for your enquiry about the problems you may or may not be having with our laundry services. We are looking into this matter and will be in touch with you again as soon as possible. In the meantime, should you wish to contact us, be sure to quote our reference number above". The now even more disgruntled Tai Tso, having noted the prompt response, personal tone, individual attention to his problem and missing reference number, decided to have a little moan to Lo Fan.

"Lo Fan, your charter said that you would give good laundry in an utterly excellent manner. Three weeks have passed and now, if anything, the stains are getting worse. Certainly not better. In fact, you bring the stains to my attention each time Aiso includes a quality control checklist in my bundle".

"Oh, you are so wise to grasp the paradox between process and content. I now understand why your noodle products are so well loved. Your noodles are consistent in length. We need to ensure that we give every customer a consistent laundry service. I can assure you that your laundry has gone through the same process as every other villager's. Guru Neverminda says that our enlightenment along the path of Ti Ku will go through many levels. At this level, we are putting the customer first. We need to understand what you really want".

"I want stain free laundry", muttered Tai Tso.

"Of course you do. But you want far more besides – prompt and friendly service, value for money, professionalism and a hygienically conscious environment. We want this, because we know that many of our potential customers still prefer their wives to do the laundry, despite all of our expenditure on quality. For this reason, Guru Neverminda is leading us this very afternoon in a quality ring meditation on continuous improvement. We hope to understand better how our service can be fit for our customers' purposes, while still meeting our specifications. In fact, I meant to tell you that your laundry won't be ready until tomorrow because of the quality ring".

"What do you do in a quality ring? Is it like my wife's silk spinning circle?" quipped an increasingly skeptical Tai Tso.

"Very similar", said Lo Fan, "you truly have an insight into these matters. The noodle factory must be very close to Ti Ku enlightenment. In our quality ring this afternoon, we hope to look beyond satisfying our service specifications and look forward to fulfilling our customers' inmost desires".

"How do customers get to attend one of your quality rings?"

"Guru Neverminda says that only by looking deep into ourselves can we truly understand our customers. It is important that we have prime time to meditate on our own. We are like believers who follow the form of their religion without understanding the way. We observe the fasts, the days of rest, the sexual strictures and some of the more enigmatic, traditional practices. We have a quality process, but are yet to achieve the enlightenment of Ti Ku".

"Why don't you just give the customers what they want? We give good noodles; why don't you simply give good laundry?", asked Tai Tso.

"How will we know when our laundry is high quality?"

Drawing from an exam question for his noodle inspector's certificate, Tai Tso asked, "Of all the grains of sand on the beach which is the highest quality?"

Lo Fan was speechless, deep in thought. Tai Tso fidgeted nervously. He was fast losing patience with Lo Fan's evangelism and was seriously considering the advantages of getting his wife to do the laundry tomorrow. Suddenly Lo Fan burst forth. "You are truly a master of quality. Consistency isn't everything. I can see that the noodle factory must have long ago achieved Ti Ku. You never told me that you have been working with Guru Neverminda all these years".

"We have not worked with your Guru. Or any other Guru. We know what we're doing. We make good noodles. People want to buy them".

"Oh such wisdom, to measure quality through success. I now understand the true Way. Inspections, checklists and procedures can be obstacles to quality unless they are means to Z/Yen enlightenment. We need to do – what we do – well".

"Yes, but what about the brown stains?" concluded Tai Tso.

Two months later Tai Tso wanted to talk to Lo Fan about a small tear in one of his shirts. Tai Tso had heard about Guru Neverminda's hasty return to his secluded monastery in a not quite clean robe. There were murmurings in the village that Kli Ning's expected donation to the Guru's monastery had not been forthcoming. Further, Kli Ning had been heard to say to the abbott, "we need to get a big picture grip on the details" – a sure sign of his displeasure. Tai Tso had also heard of the paperwork minimization procedures instituted by Aiso after his former master's departure. Tai Tso had to admit that some changes had been made. He appreciated not receiving those irritating checklists. Some days, he found fewer brown stains than usual. The stench remained unchanged. Lo Fan greeted Tai Tso warmly.

"Things are better, aren't they? Just say it Tai Tso", said Lo.

White socks and red socks and pink socks between (officially attributed to be from the "Laundry Inspector's Standard Book of Nursery Rhymes").

[Questions for students: (1) Write an appropriate customer charter for the Kwik Klining Duck Tea House and Laundry's restaurant staff. (2) Design a laboratory test for Tai Tso's noodles which accurately measures their pre and post boiling elasticity. Use exact approximations where necessary.]


Quality is key (you know it when you see it), but it surely isn't free. Too much separation of quality as a distinct process or characteristic can divert people from the fact that quality is an intrinsic part of all work. Quality is greater than the sum of the activities. Quality is a total, pervasive characteristic, and therefore quality not just resists direct management, but can be destroyed by direct management. Don't let quality become separated from real work.

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