Six Sigma and more:
A look at rhythm and Six Sigma
As you know, I teach a management class entitled Context
and Transformation. Among other things, we explore ideas that students
care about, using metaphors to search for what these things teach
us about management. This week, one of the students taught us to
hip-hop dance. As we explored the relevance to management, another
international student said it’s all about rhythm. So here
we are; Six Sigma and rhythm.
Of course, we can start with the rhythm of dance
and of music. That rhythm, frequently in partnership with the music,
evokes emotion. A march can evoke patriotism. A Latin beat can bring
up romance and passion. A hymn can open up the spirit. A fast, danceable
tune can evoke just plain fun.
Beyond what we experienced directly in the classroom,
the heartbeat comes to mind. The slow, steady beats of our hearts
reminds me of our steadfastness, our reliability, and our compassion.
I am put in mind of the selfless efforts of so many of us helping
the victims of Hurricane Katrina when our governments’ efforts
seemed to fall so short. But sometimes our hearts fail us. If our
hearts are not healthy, we are not healthy.
Then there is the rhythm of the seasons. As I searched
for my favorite description of the seasons by Parker Palmer, I came
across a piece on The Wheel of Life. I could not find the source,
but an internet search brought up many references to the subject.
The particular piece I originally found describes the seasons from
a southern hemisphere perspective. Part of the power of the seasons
is that they mirror our own mortality. Spring mirrors birth, summer
mirrors life, fall mirrors decline, and winter mirrors death. But
the piece provides more insight.
Spring is a time of emergence. Parker Palmer has
observed that emergence is messy. Emergence is also bountiful. It
is a time to see new things. Summer is a time for the celebration
of life and fertility. The flowers are turning into fruit. Things
are fully alive. Fall brings the harvest. It is a time to share.
It is a time to be thankful and a time to rededicate ourselves.
The winter is a time of ever increasing darkness. It is a time to
balance our thankfulness with an assessment of the losses that were
also experienced. It is a time to gain wisdom. But finally, it is
a time to conceptualize the new.
What does rhythm have to do with Six Sigma? As I
consider the connection, I remember that we are somehow programmed
to view our organizations, our lives, and our world as a series
of seemingly unrelated events. We frequently look at and deal with
single events, problems, and opportunities as if they need to be
dealt with as separate and unrelated to the rest of our experience.
But Dr. Deming and Six Sigma both have taught us to look with the
perspective of processes that we can strive to control. That was
a significant contribution to our understanding of how our organizations
run. I think, however, that rhythms teach that there are also naturally
existing patterns that influence what happens to us and to our organizations.
These natural rhythms are much more difficult to control.
We frequently take snapshots of our customers, our
employees, our processes, our structures, our equipment, tools and
equipment, and even the environment in which we operate as if they
are static. Of course, they are not. Gathering data and analyzing
those entities as if they are movies instead of snapshots may be
The Wheel of the World added yet additional insight for me. The world from the southern hemisphere looks very different than the world from a northern perspective. We cannot deny being in a global economy, yet everywhere I look I see people and organizations that forget that other people see the world in very different ways. Embracing and celebrating diverse perspectives can only enhance our Six Sigma efforts. It can help us see new things. The Wheel also reminds me to celebrate, to be thankful, and to gain wisdom by examining both our accomplishments and our failures, and to conceptualize the new.
Here are a couple of final thoughts. Stay in touch
and dance with your own rhythms, as well as the rhythms both inside
and outside your organization, rather than ignoring or attempting
to conquer them. These are, I think, our most common responses.
And take a little time to consider what rhythms mean to you. I’m
sure I have barely scratched the surface.
As always, I look forward to your reactions. I'm
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