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The term hook or by crook has its origins in 13th century England and is said to have come from the practice of having allowed commoners to take as much wood from a royal forest as they could reach with a shepherd's crook and cut down with a billhook.

As the term evolved, it came to mean “by any means necessary.” In some circles, not only did it come to mean that someon would exert a great amount of energy to get something done, but also would use dishonest means to accomplish the task. In fact, crook would soon also come to describe a petty criminal.

Regardless of where you land on the positive or negative connotations of the statement, it—or similar phrases—have become common in discussions of business and sport. We often hear phrases like “gaining a competitive advantage,” or even words like “leverage,” which, along with “by any means necessary” are often ambiguous. It can often be difficult to determine where the line is between a positive advantage and cheating.

In a column from a couple of months ago, I described incidents in the aerospace sector of fraudulent parts winding up in the supply chain. It was obvious, I believe, that those stories were the result of fraud, the result of cheating. Other situations are not so glaring and may take investigation to determine cause and intent. Was this an accident or due to malfeasance? We are currently watching the investigation of the plug door on the Alaskan Airlines flight from Portland, to not only correct any problems, but also determine what happened and why. It’s only human nature.

Quality—whether described as the measurement and inspection of parts and products or as process control and continuous improvement in manufacturing—can help before, during, and after such events. It can even go as far as to protect reputation, particularly with the ambiguity around the term competitive advantage.

It reminds me of yet another popular proverb. We need to go back even further than 13th century England to the Roman Empire.

“Caesar’s wife must be beyond reproach.” It was said of Caesar’s wife, Pompeia. In her case, it meant, “If one is romantically involved with a famous or prominent figure, one must avoid attracting negative attention or scrutiny.” It is also true of the people and processes close to, or part of, a well-known entity, like a manufacturing operation, and those people and processes should be beyond reproach, far beyond merely protecting the brand, but especially if the “unthinkable” were to occur.

In fact, quality can even help in clearing up the ambiguity of cheating versus gaining competitive advantage. Take, for instance, DeflateGate. As Greg Cenker and Henry Zumbrun write:

“The ‘Deflategate’ scandal is one of the most infamous controversies in the National Football League (NFL) history, centered around the legendary quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

This scandal erupted following the 2014 AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts when accusations emerged that the Patriots had intentionally deflated footballs to gain an unfair advantage.

As one of the sport's most accomplished and recognizable figures, Tom Brady's involvement added even more intrigue to the saga.

The example we will present is a walkthrough of measurements, from establishing metrological traceability, calculating measurement uncertainty correctly, and applying that to making a conformity assessment that will show if the NFL was right to suspend Tom Brady for four games.”

So, check out their article, “Unraveling the Tom Brady DeflateGate” in this month’s Quality. And watch out for our new weekly word game, “A Word on Quality.”

Enjoy and thanks for reading!