Quality eLine Newsletter
June 2004
Vol. 6, No. 6

Six Sigma and More: 
David Schwinn sees business as an agent of world benefit

by David R. Schwinn

In February my wife Carole and I were invited to a presentation by David Cooperrider on his project, Business as an Agent of World Benefit. Cooperrider is most closely associated with Appreciative Inquiry (AI), considered by many to be one of the more powerful organizational development interventions recently developed. I left that event thinking that Cooperrider’s work could positively influence the efforts of Six Sigma practitioners in two ways. First, Appreciative Inquiry could be used as a powerful tool to accelerate the Six Sigma process. Second, thinking of business as an agent of global benefit could positively broaden Six Sigma efforts.

Appreciative Inquiry is, as the name implies, about the positive. My experience has shown me that problem analysis, while necessary in the practice of Six Sigma, is not the most challenging part of the process. Generating workable ideas for improvement is the most challenging part; and AI is a grand tool for finding and illuminating those ideas. As a matter of fact, AI practitioners say that problem analysis and problem solving sometimes get in the way of effective improvement. If you want to dig more deeply into that idea, go to http://ai.cwru.edu. Now, let me more completely describe AI.

From Cooperrider’s website, “AI involves…the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential. It centrally involves the mobilization of inquiry through the crafting of the ‘unconditional positive question’ often involving hundreds or sometimes thousands of people.” The nature of those questions encourages people to talk about past and present capacities as well as visions of valued and possible futures. The questions may ask about “achievements, assets, unexplored potentials, innovations, strengths, elevated thoughts, opportunities, benchmarks, high point moments, lived values, traditions, strategic competencies, stories, expressions of wisdom, and insights into the deeper spirit or soul” of the organization. You might want to consider incorporating AI into your Six Sigma effort using a process such as:

  • Use AI questions to find improvement ideas
  • Illuminate those ideas
  • Determine how you want to act on those ideas
  • Act on them
  • Reflect and act on what you learned.

Learning about Cooperrider’s Business as an Agent of World Benefit (BAWB) is likely to broaden your Six Sigma effort. This theme is important to most of you first of all because most of you are in business. In his book, When Corporations Rule the World (San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1995), David Korten argues that the convergence of ideological, political, and technological forces is leading to an ever-greater concentration of economic and political power in a handful of corporations and financial institutions, separating their interests from the human interest, and leaving the market system blind to all but its own short-term financial gain. So business seems to be getting ever more powerful at the same time that it is getting ever more focused on making money for its executives and the financial community. But there are a few businesses moving in the opposite direction.

I just heard, for example, a speaker from Steelcase speak on that company’s redirection to integrate its safety program and environmental program more fully into its core business processes. These are just two of many options for using Six Sigma techniques to benefit the world without sacrificing profits. In fact, Steelcase’s early results seem to indicate that the redirection is actually enhancing profits. What a concept!

So here are this month’s suggestions for enhancing your Six Sigma effort. Appreciate your capacities a little more, solve your problems a little less, and benefit the world as you improve the bottom line.

As always, I welcome your thoughts. I’m at support@ pqsystems.com


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