Some books are awfully long and tedious to read and add little or nothing to a reader’s knowledge; then there is The Ice Cream Maker. This short book explains one of the major problems facing modern-day America, the lack of emphasis on quality, and the steps that can be taken to reverse this trend.

For those of us who were around in the 1960s and 1970s, American quality was something that everyone was proud of, and things made in some foreign countries were belittled as objects that would be sure to break down almost immediately. Things made in America, on the other hand, were looked at with pride by both the people who bought them and those who made them. Then came the ascendance of the Harvard MBA era of business.

During the last 30 or 40 years, this school of thought has dominated the thinking of big business and public policy makers in the United States. The basic premise is that if executives concern themselves with short-term profits, the long term will take care of itself. The easiest way for firms to do this is to de-emphasize quality in their products. This worked for a while as it took consumers time to catch on that Firms grew unconcerned that people actually made their products here, and began advocating ‘free’ trade and shipped their manufacturing jobs to places where people would do the same jobs for much lower wages.

Subir Chowdhury reveals the nonsense in this strategy as a long-term policy; he contends that Americans are excellent at innovation, but when it comes to product integrity, companies are unwilling to waste resources on its development. Thus, companies begin losing market share as those from foreign nations perfect the innovations developed by their American counterparts. The author of this book, written in 2005, contends that this trend can be changed if firms instead emphasize three traits: Listening to customers and employees, enriching the firm by seeking perfection, and optimizing the process by ensuring that consistency is part of the overall production process.

Today, Consumer Reports released a report that it is not recommending a number of American SUVs because of the lack of quality in them. Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX were not recommended because of a touch screen control program that is difficult for consumers to understand and for drivers to safely deploy. Meanwhile, the magazine didn’t recommend the Chevy Tahoe because of problems with excessive stopping distance, poor handling and fuel economy, and poor configuration of the rear seats. This is just the latest example of large firms producing a product that they expect consumers to buy regardless of its usability.

The Ice Cream Maker is a very short book, I usually read it in a night or two. However, its lessons are important to businesses, government, and each of us as individuals.