The way to exceed our current condition is to invest effort in creating new templates that forever raise our standard of living
By C.R. Herro
Across America, when you enter into many small businesses, there are signs that read “You may choose two: FAST, CHEAP, or GOOD.” There are Venn diagrams in economic books depicting the same sentiment. Most of us have resigned ourselves to this concept, and compromise one of the benefits of fast, cheap, and good in order to obtain the other two. What we fail to realize is that there is a more accurate understanding of our choices. We each may choose THREE: FAST, CHEAP, GOOD, or EASY. The transformative realization is that there is the ability for us to have efficient, low cost, quality products—if we initially invest effort. So why have we accepted less?
The cost of getting all three is a little hard work up front. Consider our current condition: we take for granted our current ability to drive anywhere in the U.S. We have fast, cheap, and good. To achieve our current capacity would have been unconceivable 100 years earlier when Ford’s Model T was just ramping up production. There was no Federal roadway system, and very little besides the dirt paths frequented by horse drawn carriages. To achieve fast, cheap, and good, we had to invest first in effort. The change required giving up easy for a period of time to transition from railroad and horse to anywhere, anytime, at $3 per gallon. The investment in challenging our status quo and investing effort improved the entire nation’s prosperity and the average standard of living in the U.S.
The way to exceed our current condition is to invest effort in creating new templates that forever raise our standard of living, and then return to fast, cheap, easy, and a new level of performance. We continue experiencing less because we don’t pay the one-time fee to improve. In maintaining easy, we continually have to eliminate fast, cheap, or good. Easy does have its place—it allows for focus on execution and efficiency. Both the challenge and opportunity are in investing effort to progress toward a more optimum human condition. The question before us is only how long we wish to tarry in the mediocre condition of present humanity. The initial hard work people undertook in digging water lines, building sewage plants, and pulling power cables significantly improves how we all spend our current days.
The challenges today with building efficient, cost effective, and quality homes are twofold: people don’t perceive a problem with their status quo nor experience the improved quality of life that comes with better building practices, and therefore do not perceive a need to invest additional effort. In order to progress, everyone within the decision sequence needs to take one step forward so that the entire performance of our industry is raised. And like Ford, Edison, and Steve Jobs, they need to do it without people demanding it; they need to create a new opportunity that doesn’t exist today. Suppliers need to challenge, retool, and invest in applying innovation into their products. Architects need to consider efficiency and cost-benefit in the construction details of their designs. Trades need to invest in incorporating new techniques and materials into their routines. Municipalities need to promote performance based code compliance to support innovation and cost optimization while still pushing for incremental improvements. Good builders inspire buyers to make better choices. Realtors need to be an advocate for finding the best comprehensive solution to improve a buyer’s quality of life. Buyers need to become educated and demand home functions to be comfortable, healthy, safe, durable, and efficient.
All of this requires one effort: investing in conceiving of and executing better. The profound understanding is threefold. One, you can have all three: fast, cheap, and good. Two, there is no free lunch in nature. You have to invest in better understanding, better materials, better designs, better policies, better financing, and better choices in order to experience a better quality of life. Three, once you stop to manage through the difficulty of challenging and changing status quo, we can apply those innovations to achieve an improved standard of living and return to fast, cheap, and good.
C.R. Herro is the Vice President of Environmental Affairs for Meritage Homes. He may be reached at