Six Sigma and more:
The meaning of life
Rita Elizabeth Louise Schwartz passed away on April 21. I did not know her. She was the daughter in-law of a friend of my wife, Carole. We attended the funeral at Rita’s church. I had a catch in my breath before the service even started. I knew this was going to be something. It was.
The ceremony started with a few remarks from the senior pastor. He mentioned beforehand that he and the other two youth pastors officiating might break down as the ceremony--meant to be a celebration--continued. They did. On the screen at the front of the church was a projection of a woman with the kind of smile that is infectious. The story that was told at the celebration was of a woman who had her difficulties, as do we all. But after all was said and done, what people remembered was her caring, her kindness, her faith, her adventurousness, her acceptance of others, her giving nature, and her overriding, exuberant expressions of fun.
She had planned much of the celebration from stories to songs to Facebook pages to photos to expressions of faith. Her intention was, apparently, to help those left behind through the pain and to help those of us who might be interested to get closer to her personal savior, Jesus Christ. Just those two intentions spoke immeasurably of this woman whose life I helped celebrate. As you can tell, by now, I was deeply touched.
Our day continued with a concert by Sir Elton John. That was an entirely different kind of celebration, but a celebration it was. As you must know, Elton John is a party animal. He finished the concert with the song he said opened doors for him to a new path for his life. The song was The Circle of Life from The Lion King. As you know it is a wonderful song. It was nominated for an Academy Award. The song title and its words took me back to Rita…
But all are agreed as they join the stampede
You should never take more than you give
These reflections have taken me back to yet another celebration advocate. In the early 90s, Carole and I were working with a Catholic school on the Georgian Bay in Canada. We noticed that the nuns had a beautiful calendar full of profound, stimulating quotes about the earth and the universe by someone named Thomas Berry. This was at a time when we were planning a conference that we hoped would take people beyond Total Quality Management as a way to view community development. It looked as though Thomas Berry might fit the bill as a keynote speaker. We naively searched, found his phone number, and called him directly. He answered personally and invited us to New York for a visit. We found the man Newsweek has described as:
The most provocative figure among this new breed of eco-theologians…a solitary monk whose essays have aroused environmentalists like a voice crying in the wilderness.
Tom Berry was, indeed, a man who challenged the world view of our conference attendees. As I began to understand the vastness of this man’s wisdom, I decided to ask him THE QUESTION. I asked him, what is the meaning of life? He simply said, “To celebrate!” And there we have it…celebration.
Most of us who have studied management and leadership know that celebration is part of what we should do. But I think we forget to do it. Even when we remember, we frequently make it a command performance. The boss says, either implicitly or explicitly, we must attend. I remember one of the many things we learned with our community work. If you call a meeting at work, everyone shows up, but frequently only physically. In a community, many people do not show up but the ones who do show up really want to be there and the quality of the work shows.
The other thing we learned with community work was to have food. One of my finest bosses, Frank Macher, was a master at parties. He never planned or announced a party. He simply suggested to someone that a celebration might be a good idea. After that he made a point of making sure that no one knew that he had anything to do with it. He had no influence on those events except to show up and personally thank everyone there for their work and ask them about their lives. We had picnics, softball games, bowling parties, dance parties, and just hang outs at the local eatery. They were always off site.
As I think about it, we also had formal celebrations on work premises with cake and ice cream…the kind everyone went to. But the ones that worked best were the ones that were off site. They were the kind where attendance was obviously voluntary and the boss took no leadership role except as Frank did.
So let’s give it a try. Celebrate project successes and points along the way. Celebrate team formation, project approval, data gathering, breakthrough ideas, and implementation stages. Even celebrate the learning that comes from the failures. Celebrate Mondays. Celebrate Fridays. Celebrate paydays. Celebrate birthdays and holidays. Any excuse will do. Celebrate each other. Remember, it is the purpose of life.
I’d love to receive your reactions and best experiences with celebration. I’m at email@example.com.
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