John Ruskin and the Common Law of Business Balance

Posted on August 4, 2013 · Posted in Uncategorized

I believe the architectural and design service we give our clients is as good or better than they will find elsewhere. A recurring dilemma in this competitive world is whether or not our service matches or exceeds new clients’ expectations. I know that here at 4D Studio we do more and offer a better service than many of our residential architect competitors. Reading an article by American architect Bob Borson the other day I found a quote by Ruskin, the 19th century English poet, fervent art critic, and socialist, that resonated with me. I too had thought through it many times before. In his article Bob Borson was talking about construction costs but I think Ruskins view also applies to the services we provide. I hadn’t ever heard or read it put so succinctly. It is “The Common Law of Business Balance” which is a meditation on price by John Ruskin.

“There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person’s lawful prey. It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money — that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot — it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”
This is a classic quote on the possible folly of automatically choosing the lowest cost as the best way to make a purchase decision. It appeals to those who believe, or who want to persuade others to believe, that price is a possible indicator of quality. While this is not always true, it does align with my way of thinking because I tend to see it played out this way on ‘problem’ projects that clients bring to me to sort out after they have failed to achieve what they should have and also later in the procurement process I see it on the construction site. For the most part (and there are exceptions to the rule) the really good contractors tend to work with really good sub-contractors and the combination of these two things generally translates into a superior product – which typically translates into a more expensive product.

What I try to talk about with my colleagues, friends and clients is finding the appropriate balance between product and cost – which equates to value. If you don’t appreciate the more expensive item, or can’t tell the difference between something and its less expensive alternative, how can there be value in paying for it? The only time this really becomes an issue is when someone wants to pay for the cheaper alternative but expects the quality level to remain unchanged. It simply doesn’t work out when the expectations don’t align with the associated cost.

I don’t have a punch line to this blog but publish it as something we should all think about