Bryan’s Blog: The Words of John Ruskin…


Following last month’s blog post about my 30 years at White Light, I have been encouraged to put ‘pen to paper’ once again…

This month’s inspiration comes from a dinner I had earlier this month. It was with a colleague who was in London for a few days. He reminded me of a quote that used to be in the (now famous) White Light catalogues we used to produce every couple of years (until a little thing called the internet made such things redundant). The quote he was referring to came from the late 1800s and was made by John Ruskin, who was a well-known writer at the time.

“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’s 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.”
John Ruskin (1819 – 1900)

This led to a discussion about how nothing has really changed in the twenty years we have been working on projects together; with many of our customers still looking at the initial ‘cost of things’ rather than the ‘value of things’. We discussed the pressures our clients are under to deliver their projects for the lowest prices for their clients. We bemoaned the lack of medium or long-term view on projects as we regaled each other with stories of losing jobs to competitors on price only to discover that the end cost to the client was more than our original ‘higher’ quote. We discussed whether this was a result of the changes in society, whether things like the internet had transformed many areas of our business into a ‘commodity’ as it made it easier for people to compare and find alternative suppliers.

Then we remembered something about the quote – it was written almost 150 years ago. It was written in an era before telephones let alone the internet. What would our Victorian forebears make of our business world today where we all expect everyone to be accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days per week and respond to requests made within hours rather than days. Going back to the subject of my last blog, I remember when we were required to post our quotes before someone invented the fax machine* in the late Eighties and we were able to reply to requests for pricing on the same day as receiving them. Now we have mobile phones and receive our emails remotely meaning we can respond within minutes. Yet this can often result in having no time to consider our options and ending up making quick judgements and decisions.

(* I recently had to explain to someone what a fax machine was as we no longer have one at WL…I felt very old)

But going back to the quote from John Ruskin: have things changed in the 150 years since he wrote that quote? To the best of my knowledge, John Ruskin wasn’t talking about the entertainment industry when he wrote those words yet they still feel extremely relevant. So maybe nothing really has changed and nothing is new? I suppose we’ll have to see if John Ruskin is still being quoted in another 150 years time…