Quality eLine Newsletter
March 2005
Vol. 7, No. 03

Six Sigma and More: 
David Schwinn's advice: "Pass it on."

by David R. Schwinn

Recently, I heard an interview on National Public Radio with an author who decided to research and write a book about “the truth.” He did write the book but it turned out to describe the value of mentorship. Unfortunately, I have forgotten all the details but I do remember the question he wandered around the world asking. It’s a great question and it goes something like this:

Who has informed you about what and how have you passed it on?

The “passed it on” part really struck me because it’s such a good way of describing what we believe to be most important. It gives us an opportunity to examine the worthiness of what we are passing on.

I decided to check out my own learning journey and ask myself the question. Even though learning is much too complex to summarize with a few teachers and events, I thought it might provide me with some insights.

My first transformational teacher was Dr. W. Edwards Deming. He taught me about rework. He taught me how destructive it is, how hard it is to identify in a world that sees rework as a normal and necessary condition, and how to reduce it. He also taught me how to think statistically. He taught me to understand the world from a common cause and special cause perspective. Sometimes I think that teaching was more of a curse than a gift, for nearly every day I find some major decision in the world that has been made without that insight. He taught me to embrace continual improvement instead of making judgments of absolute good or bad.

The next transformative teacher who came to mind was Peter Senge. At a single presentation at a Systems Thinking Conference, he convinced me that everything I had come to believe as true was just made up. My resulting trauma was somewhat calmed when he helped me understand the value of simultaneously holding to my beliefs and recognizing their limits.

As my wife, Carole, and I later struggled with what to do about systems that just didn’t seem worth saving, we found a group of particularly wise system thinkers. Russ Ackoff, Jamshid Gharajedaghi, Gerald Nadler, George Land, and Beth Jarman all contributed to our understanding of how to analyze a situation and what to do to make a better system.

Finally, Meg Wheatley taught me how the new science informs our views of leadership. But more than that, Meg has been a model for learning and generosity. Since her first best selling book, Leadership and the new Science (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1992), was published, Meg has embarked on an exciting journey beyond her prior background in organizational development to integrate the arts and spirituality into her insight into leadership and management.

These are the teachers and mentors who came to mind when I asked myself the question about whom and what has informed me. As some of you may know, I spend most of my time facilitating learning about management at Lansing Community College. I get to “pass it on” in the classroom with my students on a regular basis. As I was “passing it on” recently, I decided to ask my students the same question. The results surprised me. The most common teachers cited by my students were their parents. How could I have forgotten? My parents taught me unconditional love.

I was not so sure how well I was passing that one on until last weekend, when Carole and I took a valentine to our two-year-old granddaughter, Caroline. We asked if we could read it to her or if she would rather read it herself. She said she would read it herself. She read it to us. She began with a long, quiet story that we, unfortunately, could not understand, but she finished with a loud, clear “we love you.” Maybe, just maybe, we are passing it on.

So ask yourself these questions. Who have your teachers been? What have they taught you? How are you passing it on?

As always, I welcome and appreciate your input. I’m at support@pqsystems.com

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