Six Sigma and more:
David Schwinn on ‘Amazing Grace’
My wife, Carole, and I watched “Amazing Grace” this week, a movie based on the true story of how William Wilberforce ended British slave trade. It is a moving story of strength, courage, leadership, persistence, and even management. It is a movie worth seeing. There were many lessons. I’d like to reflect on two that were important to me: doing something important and being persistent about it.
For Wilberforce, doing something important meant doing something bigger than himself. I think we all feel good about doing something bigger than ourselves, but we sometimes think our jobs restrict our doing things that are big enough. Another behavior that gets in the way is not taking care of ourselves because we believe taking care of others takes such precedence. Abraham Maslow and Carol Gilligan both come to mind when I think of this phenomenon of not taking care of ourselves. They both describe developmental paths beginning at self care and ending at either self-actualization or care for all. I, at least, sometimes forget that those paths are not necessarily linear. Life frequently requires that we take temporary back steps as we grow older. The kind of important work Wilberforce undertook also provides that lesson.
Wilberforce worked to stop British slave trade. That is one kind of important work to do. You can also do something you are already doing better. That is, of course, the power of Six Sigma. A third way to do important work is to do something new.
That third approach is the one we took in Jackson County, Michigan in the late 1990s. We attempted to make a better community by starting with a clean sheet of paper. Our initiative influenced the creation of many new things in the community, such as a redesigned downtown, the Enterprise Group (a county-wide economic development collaborative), and the Jackson Area Nonprofit Support Center. But what was more important to me was what we failed to do. We could not fix a flawed justice system, feed all the hungry people, house all the homeless people, or provide adequate health care for those who need it. From that deep disappointment I learned that if, as Christine Baldwin has so eloquently stated in The Seven Whispers, A Spiritual Practice for Times Like These (New World Library, Novato, CA: 2002), I love the folks in front of me, that may be enough. So your important work may range from acting on Lester Brown’s upcoming new book, Plan B 3.0, Mobilizing to Save Civilization (W.W. Norton, NY, NY: 2008), to loving the folks in front of you. That choice takes us to the other lesson I took from Amazing Grace.
William Wilberforce was persistent. His effort took many years and many twists and turns, but he stuck it out. I contrast that with the approach taken by a wonderful friend and mentor of mine, Rita Cleary. Rita says that she takes on nothing unless it is “light as a feather.” I reconcile that apparent disagreement with something I learned from Gerald Nadler (see Integrative Problem Solving, Industrial Engineering and Management Press, Norcross, Georgia: 1986). Gerry suggests that a continuum exists for whatever we are attempting to do. There is always a larger purpose for what we are attempting and a smaller purpose or tactic for it also. He suggests that we seek to achieve the highest purpose to which we can contribute. He also suggests that there may be many ways to achieve that “higher” purpose. That may be what Rita is saying with her approach to being persistent. Holding the larger purpose but taking a new path when the burden gets too heavy may, in fact, be the most effective way of being persistent.
In our lives and in our Six Sigma efforts, I think we should do something important. We may do that by improving something, the primary Six Sigma method, or by stopping something or creating something new. Only we can decide what is important. I only suggest that we make it large enough to honor the unique and unparalleled gifts we have each been given. And that we take care of ourselves along the way. Finally, let’s be persistent even if we must change paths in order to keep our efforts “light as a feather.”
As always, I eagerly await your stories and insight. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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