October 2001

Vol. 3, No. 10

Six Sigma and More:
Some thoughts about terrorism and communication

by David R. Schwinn

"The world economy is without substance; its structural fragility, created by speculation, indebtedness and a long period of high interest rates, cannot withstand any shocks, large or small (decreased consumption, for instance). The flow of money from poor countries to rich countries and from poor people to the giant fortunes of the 'capital collectors' in the developed countries have brought to light the basic injustices inherent in the existing economic system.  Here lies a self-timed bomb ticking; the more evident the injustices become, the closer the detonation."

Rolf Osterberg, Corporate Renaissance
(Mill Valley, CA: Nataraz Publishing, 1993)

. . . and the towers came tumbling down.  With them came more than 6,000 of our brothers and sisters, killed for reasons we may never fully understand. Perhaps in a world where people are feeling more physically and electronically connected without feeling more emotionally and spiritually interconnected, the September 11 disaster was inevitable.  I believe that once the streets of New York are swept clean, and when the grief begins to subside, we will still be facing a monumental, global crisis of communication and understanding.
I am told that the creators of the World Trade Center thought they would increase commerce, which would make a better life for everyone, everywhere. But others in the world believe that world commerce, as it is currently conceived, organized, and managed, has exaggerated the worldwide gap between the haves and have-nots, stolen the natural resources of Third World countries, and created slave labor conditions in those and other countries.

Most Americans believe that the Pentagon was conceived as the necessary center of our defense against those who want to harm us just because we are too free, too democratic, too rich, too Christian, too powerful, too greedy, or just too happy. Of course, many people think there are just evil people who think we're an easy target. Others in the world think the Pentagon is the mastermind of the missiles, bombs, napalm, tear gas, and bullets that needlessly kill, maim and destroy their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters. As I reflect on the tragedy that happened to the whole world on September 11, 2001, I wonder if what we humans have created is a crisis of communication and understanding.

Evidence of that crisis exists everywhere, even within our organizational relationships. Too many supervisors believe their subordinates to be stupid, lazy, or otherwise incapable and/or unwilling to do their jobs. Employees believe their supervisors to be incompetent, mean-spirited, and out of touch with reality. 

Frequently, we believe our suppliers are incapable of providing on-time, high quality goods and services, and that they are trying to figure out any way they can to increase their prices and generally rip us off. Our suppliers think we don't know what we want, and are committed to demanding so much that we continually force them to the edge of bankruptcy. Many of our plant managers believe our material control managers enjoy constantly jerking around the production schedules in order to keep unreasonably low inventories. At the same time, our material control managers think our plant managers are arrogant and unresponsive, because they resist the kind of flexible production schedules the real world requires. And on it goes.  In many cases, not all, these beliefs are the result of systems we have put in place that create unnecessary conflict. In every case, I suggest, the situation could be made better by communicating for understanding.

The beliefs and assumptions out of which we have created our organizations are not clearly articulated, so we are not sure what other people believe to be true. Some of us have forgotten what we believed to be true when we created our organizations and industries. Did we deliberately set out to create factories and schools and governments and hospitals where there is so much dissension and, if I may use the word, hatred?  How is it that we expect to understand people halfway across the world, when we don't understand the people in our own backyard?

There are no simple solutions to the complexities of the global economy or to the level of separation and hatred that exists in so many places around the world. But perhaps we can begin by communicating for understanding in our own families and organizations and communities.  Maybe we can:

  • Let others know what we believe to be true as the basis for our actions, and ask them what they believe.
  • Pause. This is not a debate. It is a conversation intended to seek common understanding, not a contest
    to decide who's right and who's wrong.
  • Ask clarifying questions to understand the other person's point of view.
  • State what we believe to be the other person's point of view and ask if we've gotten it right.
  • Continue the conversation until we can state the other's viewpoint. We may be surprised how little difference there is between us after that dialogue.

With a common understanding, we can move forward quickly and powerfully.  There will still, inevitably, be areas of disagreement, but we can still move forward with a better understanding of each other and with shared intentions. Without communicating for understanding, we fire people for no good reason, withhold resources, miss deadlines, develop ulcers and mental illness, create unreasonable goals, and generally create cultures of distrust. 
Six Sigma with communication for understanding can be a very powerful process. Six Sigma without communication for understanding is not worth the paper it's written on. A world without communication for understanding destroys the lives of thousands upon thousands of people all over the world every year.  In a world with communication for understanding, peace just might break out all over.
May God (or whatever name you choose) bless our lost brothers and sisters, their loved ones, and all life. And may we remember the words, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."

As always, let me know what you think. You can reach me at support@pqsystems.com.

Copyright 2001 PQ Systems.

Please direct questions or problems regarding this web site to the Webmaster.