November  2002

Vol. 4, No. 11

Six Sigma and More: 
David Schwinn attends a seminar, thinks about chaos

by David R. Schwinn

For several days, I've been in Boise, recalling my experience at the Mary Parker Follett Conversation on Creative Democracy. 'What the heck is that?, ' you may say. The Foundation's mission is to enable all people to actively participate in the evolution of their selves, their lives, and their world.  If you want to know more about the Foundation, check out  If you want to know more about Mary Parker Follett herself, check out a couple of her books, including The New State and Dynamic Administration, or a recent book about her work, Mary Parker Follett Prophet of Management.
What most struck me over these last four days was a comment by Tom Atlee that I have heard over and over again over the last several years.  He said, 'It seems that more and more things are getting worse and worse while, at the same time, other things seem to be getting better and better. '  Upon reflection, my wife, Carole, reminded me that systems science describes that condition as the edge of chaos, a place where anything is possible.  Tom, as others, has described our situation as standing on a collapsing precipice with no ability to go back.  We will either fall into the chasm, as the ground slowly erodes beneath our feet, or, if we choose, leap across to a new world.  By the way, I find that Tom regularly provides a well-considered, but frequently uncommon view of the world in his writings and publications (see
I contrast that with a popular management training system to which I was recently exposed. That system portrayed an environmental change currently being driven by information technology and globalization. The essence of that system calls for managers to:
Go faster
Work harder
Focus on tangible results
Have a positive attitude, even though they may be released from employment for a reason having nothing to do with their performance
Be ready to reprioritize on short notice
This feels like we're in a race where the rules keep changing and the only way to survive is to get way out in front and stay in the lead. But even if we do, survival is not guaranteed or maybe not even likely. So here's the deal. We can lose the race or win the race with the extinction of life as we know it as a high-potential result. Or we can fall into the chasm. Or we can attempt to make the leap to the other side, with no assurance that we can get across and no idea of what we'll find if we happen to make it. Or we can stand still and hope the ground on which we're standing holds. Those choices don't feel very good to me. Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, once described our situation as being belted into a car with no headlights on a dark night, hurtling faster and faster toward a cliff.
But I believe we can create a different future. We always have. We don't have to leap blindly into the future. And we don't need to take an either/or approach. I was recently reminded of Dr. Deming's point, 'Involve everyone in the transformation. ' We can stay in the (human) race.  And we can even go faster, harder, and smarter by involving everyone in the effort. 
Anyone can learn to apply the Six Sigma process, for example. Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. Just five little steps and a few simple tools can go far toward helping you win the race.  And just in case winning doesn't get you the prize or you're in the wrong race, you can also prepare yourself to take an intelligent leap.
Get clear about your situation. Figure out what you want the world to look like. Find a few friends to share your dream. The Internet is an amazing tool to help you find companions and resources.  Figure out your first move: it doesn't have to be the leap yet. Then take that next step. Remember, anything is possible. You can choose.
As always, please send me your reactions, comments, and questions. You can reach me at:

Copyright 2002 PQ Systems.

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