Quality eLine Newsletter
April 2005
Vol. 7, No. 04

Six Sigma and More: 
Just say yes, David Schwinn advises

by David R. Schwinn

Earlier this week, I again had the opportunity to listen to Meg Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science.(San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1992). I have not heard her speak in a public forum for many years and was delighted. She has come a long way from being just a brilliant interpreter. Her 1992 message helped many of us understand that the science of Einstein and others released us from the mechanical, analytic view that was, and in many quarters still is, the most common view of management. Her views of management and leadership are even more holistic and robust than they were in 1992. If you want a much better description of Meg’s views (I heartily recommend it), read her new book, Finding Our Way (San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler Publishers, 2005) or, better yet, hear her speak. As with most authors, she is doing an unusually large number of public events these days. You can get her schedule on her website, www.margaretwheatley.com.

Wheatley suggested that, as leaders, we embrace several Radical Acts. I want to explore only one of them in this month’s column. It is “Start anywhere; follow the energy of yes.” She illustrated that Act with a true story. Several years ago, a Canadian woman was preparing to go to Vietnam to pick up her second adopted child from the same orphanage where she had adopted her first. She wanted to take a gift to the orphanage. People had suggested that she take t-shirts and ball caps because overseas children seem to love those symbols of America. But she remarked to a friend that during her first visit she noticed that the orphanage and the children needed “Tylenol, not t-shirts or trinkets.” She wanted to take things like band aids and pills. She asked her friend for suggestions about how to figure out what was most needed and how to acquire an amount of supplies beyond just a token offering. Her friend suggested that an incubator for newborns might be helpful…an INCUBATOR. So our protagonist decided to pursue this idea. She simply pursued the energy of yes. After several weeks of conversations and communications, she assembled four 40-foot shipping containers that included 12 incubators and an abundance of other medical supplies. She has since set up a nonprofit to carry on and expand her work.

This story reminded me of similar suggestions made by other friends and colleagues over the years. Rita Cleary, a particularly wise and compassionate friend and advisor, pursues only those endeavors that are “light as a feather.” That approach has led her in some remarkable directions. She is a principal in The Learning Circle, an organization that is responsible for getting some of the world’s most leading edge leadership thinkers to the audiences that most need to hear them. As a member of the Brahma Kamaris, a United Nations Peace Messenger Organization, she was a leader in creating, publishing, and presenting to the United Nations, Visions of a Better World (London: Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, 1993). The book contained visions from all over the world including those offered by Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Rita Cleary keeps a bowl of feathers in her office to share with those who visit her and remind them of her simple, but powerful strategy for change.

I was also reminded of Jamshid Gharajedaghi’s approach to change. He believes that we never have enough time, knowledge, or resources to make significant change but that should not stop us. His approach, described in his book, Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity: A Platform for Designing Business Architecture (Woburn, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999), can be summarized as follows:

  1. Figure out what's going on
  2. Create an idealized design of what you want
  3. Implement your design by accomplishing these three tasks in order:
    a. Do the things you can by simply changing your mind
    b. Pursue those things that will take a little more effort and resources
    c. Do those things that are impossible

His approach may seem a little unusual but it takes into account how the real world works. Once you have begun to make progress by pursuing those first two implementation steps, those things that at first seemed impossible, then seem possible or, in some cases, easy. A phenomena that Gharajedaghi notes is that once you have described your intent (idealized design) your world view changes so that you are more aware of opportunities that arise in support of your vision. He suggests that you simply keep your design close by, dust it off from time to time, and notice opportunities that appear almost magically.

So whether you start anywhere and follow the energy of yes, keep it light as a feather, or just keep your vision close at hand and be aware of the opportunities that follow, just say yes. I believe this approach will help any Six Sigma effort. It may, however, be too foreign to the Six Sigma culture in your organization. If you are willing to take a chance, try it anyway. You may be pleasantly surprised. If the risk seems too great, use it to help you in that part of your life that falls outside your Six Sigma organization.

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

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