June 2003  

Vol. 5, No. 6

Six Sigma and More: 
Integration and creativity may be the ‘more’

by David R. Schwinn

“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”--Buffalo Springfield

When I started writing this column, I wanted to call it “Six Sigma and Beyond.” My bright and responsible editor, observed that this name was already being used, and suggested we try something else. So the title we chose was “Six Sigma and More.” This article, however, reflects my latest thinking from the point of view of that earlier title. In other words, what is “beyond” Six Sigma?

When I first started writing this column, I thought that “beyond” meant that there could be diminishing returns in using Six Sigma to pursue reduced variation, using analytic methods. In many situations, creativity is much more important than analysis. Designing new products, services, processes, structures, missions, organizations, and communities, for example, calls for increased creativity, not reduced variation.

I also thought that “beyond” had to do with one of W. Edward Deming’s classic questions, “For what purpose?” Using Six Sigma to reduce variation might not ever get us engaged in that question, let alone finding the answers. Another thought about “beyond” came when I read Fritjof Capra’s book The Turning Point, which challenged me to think about the need to embark on an entirely different path as a human species. Capra, a physicist, examined the world from a quantum perspective and concluded that we needed to change our world view before we run out of fuel, poison the air and water, and create runaway climate change. I also had this vague sense that, as a species, we had to move toward a higher level of consciousness. I hadn’t a clue about what THAT meant!

Recently, however, my wife, Carole, and I have partnered with a new friend and colleague, John Kesler. John has synthesized the beliefs and theories of thought leader Ken Wilbur, Harvard’s Robert Kegan, and several spiritual disciplines to pull together a human development model that makes sense to me. It describes stages of evolutionary development that I have observed or, at least, glimpsed on occasion. John’s model leads to a level of human development that is both integrative and life affirming. It feels like a process and a path worth understanding and pursuing

It feels like this way of thinking could lead to the “new work” that Matthew Fox describes. It could lead to making fuel cells instead of fuel tanks, and wind mills instead of oil wells. Or, as I observed on a sign at San Francisco’s “Bay to Breakers” run, we could make more beer instead of more bombs! We could make all our water potable instead of bottling up the pure water for sale to those who can afford it. We could redesign our manufacturing processes to prevent “smog days.” We could make peace instead of war. We could make music instead of litigation. We could feed the poor instead of becoming an ever more obese people.

We could follow some of those organizations that seem to be leading the way. Southwest Airlines is focusing on taking care of its employees with the expectation that they will take care of business…and they are. Ben and Jerry’s are still devoting much of their energy to taking care of the environment…and making money doing it. The Body Shop seems to be putting most of its energy on all kinds of social issues and doing just fine. Even Bill Gates is working on eradicating HIV/AIDS in Africa and elsewhere. He, like many of his peers, is devoting his information technology wealth and energy toward making the world a better place. And David Morris, CEO of Habitat International Inc., has tripled his sales over the last three years by increasing the proportion of special-needs employees in his workforce to 75%.

While I believe that Six Sigma is probably essential to business success these days, it is also rapidly becoming inadequate. So, as you continue to refine your Six Sigma effort, don’t forget the “beyond.” And I deeply hope that all of our “beyonds” take us in a more integrative, life affirming direction. If we don’t, I’m afraid our kids and their kids will inherit a much more difficult world in which to live.

Thanks for your responses. Please keep them coming. They inspire me and keep me thinking. I’m at support@pqsystems.com.


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