Notions of customer and supplier LO25611

From: Barry Mallis (
Date: 11/09/00


Thanks so much for your wonderful response.

The use of "customer" in education is dangerous, not the least reason
being a visceral reaction to equating whatever happens in traditional,
classroom environments with notions of marketplace exchange.
Distinguishing between the bazaar and the classroom is important on many
levels. (And learning goes on in both places!)

I'm proposing that a learning organization which has teaching classrooms
is informed to some degree or other by an exchange process. Someone gives,
someone takes, at times in a structured exchange, at times not. Billions
of words have been written on this topic, so I can't bring myself to dive
deeper now.

You're so right about having a product, but no customer! This notion has
achieved mythical status. We talk with a knowing sigh about great ideas
which never go beyond...beyond what? A living room? Drawing board? First
run of 4,000? They fail for lack of communication, or marketing, or

As I was writing, my notion of being customer driven derives, I will say,
from the sale of products and services, less from the education systems we
are used to. We, in the second half of the last century at least, have
evolved in business through four "fitnesses" of quality: Fitness to
Standard; Fitness to Use, Fitness to Cost, and Fitness to Latent
Requirements. Today, organizations gather the Voice of the Customer in
order to determine in part what those latent requirements may be. By
seeking to differentiate itself from competition based upon latent
customer requirements, a company not only plays in the market, but may
have greater success in winning customers who want the product or service.
In the decades ahead, Fitness to Environment may be a leading driver, the
tip of whose iceberg (no pun intended) we are just now beginning to
discuss in places of power, beyond the cliffs where knowers have been
shouting their warnings into the wind.

In art, there may be in a creative moment of the artist a notion of ego
fulfillment through explicit pleasing of some audience or other. To be a
little mushy about it, art swells up from unfathomable sources which,
simply put, demand expression. "Like it or not." The concept of customer
diminishes to a shadow of a shadow. I will never make a connection between
the moment of artistic creation, and customer. That's not to say that a
creative moment cannot be elicited by a customer requirement! If Vivaldi
or Bach had received no "requests" for particular output, would we not
have come to enjoy them today? Who knows. Does a falling tree in the
forest make a noise if no one hears it?

No, Ray, you are hardly butting in!! I love it when I get someone to
respond. Most of what I read at our site here is beyond my intention and
understanding (not in that order!). So I thank you so much for your

Jaded by fifteen years of participation in American schools, I can cite my
little list of weaknesses. Accountability to the student is one. Is he or
she a customer? Dunno.

Is there danger in transposing a model to education traditionally targeted
at a concept of commerce in other, non-education realms? Methinks so.

Irony of ironies, now I'm educating adults in problem solving, consensus
making, 'Affinity Diagramming', and on and on and on. There's less time
for philosophy and philology, because everything revolves around immediate
semantics. Provide the customer WHAT she wants, WHEN she wants it, at a
PRICE she's willing to pay. Basic, no? It's a long way from Alyosha and
Ivan in The Grand Inquisitor. I love both.

Enough for now. Thanks again.


Barry Mallis
The Organizational Trainer
110 Arch St., Suite 27
Keene, NH 03431
voice: 603 352-5289


Barry Mallis <>

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