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Six Sigma and more: David Schwinn
David Schwinn’s wish: 'I hope you dance.'

Just lately, the roller coaster of life seems a little steeper. Perhaps too easily afraid, I feared the loss associated with the brain aneurysm our daughter-in-law, Susie, had, and the mammogram callback Carole had. At the same time, I continue to revel in the opportunity to find and illuminate the management and leadership practices that I hope will take our species and the world in a transformative direction in the years to come. Those experiences and the time of year brought me to resolutions.

I’m not thinking about the little life-tweaking resolutions that are so modest that we can do them almost without effort. I am thinking about the big resolutions, the big dreams that we dare to conceive of from time to time. I am thinking, first, about how often we fail to achieve them. Peter Senge and Daniel Kim, in a Leadership and Mastery workshop years ago, told us that this failure occurs so frequently because we feel that we are either inadequate or unworthy of accomplishing our dreams. I think this is probably also true for big goals, big objectives, and big visions.

Reading a recent Ford Motor Company publication, I was struck by the fact that they have reduced their things gone wrong during the warranty period from two to one. That’s pretty good. In fact it’s essential. But it’s not enough. We’ve all known for years that, in order to gain and keep customers, we have to exceed their expectations. We must surprise and delight our customers. We must differentiate ourselves in the marketplace in a quantum fashion to even think about getting them to switch and stay with us. And we must continue to do it again and again. Customers tend to be fickle. One or two good years of good or even great performance won’t do it.

Reducing variation is good, yes even essential. But it is not enough. We must design and innovate and redesign and innovate some more. This visioning and re-visioning process must become part of the fabric of our organizations. It’s not impossible. It’s not rocket science. The Berlin Wall did come down, Apartheid in South Africa did stop, Facebook was created, microloans were conceptualized to help poor women with no money who simply wanted to feed their families, and the IT industry keeps continuing to innovate quite nicely. The common denominator is not the intellectual capacity to make the change. It is the creativity to create new ideas and the courage to make them happen. What is required is a new culture. Oh, that it were as easy as a little more intellectual effort. It takes a realization that our current (de facto, not stated) culture probably punishes the innovators;  that our current culture probably encourages people to stay in their silos; that our current processes wildly alternate between chaos, controlled improvement, and standardization. Once we’ve figured out what our current culture really is and what we’d really like it to be, we have a beginning. But we don’t actually have to start there.

As many, more recent, change models have shown, we can start by looking around our organizations. There are probably innovations already going on. Someone has impatiently decided to beat the system. It may take a little effort to find them because it is risky to be them and they probably aren’t bragging about their efforts. Living systems such as organizations don’t like change very much. Here’s where the courage begins to show up. It takes courage to be those early innovators and it takes courage to illuminate their work. But there’s more.

My experience with innovation, whether it is part of a Six Sigma project or a design effort, takes a brainstorming attitude. But that attitude and tools and processes that go with it are not enough. People who are not part of the system under scrutiny must be part of the process. Suppliers, customers, community members, and even competitors need to be part of the creative process.

Risky business. What if someone steals one of your brilliant ideas? It takes courage to create brilliant ideas that might be stolen by current or would-be competitors. Although it does take great courage, it is beginning to be done on the internet, with communities using Frans Johansson’s Medici Effect model (Harvard Business School Press, Boston: 2006), and with communities using the By-Product Synergy Program advocated by the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development (U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development, retrieved December 28, 2010).

All this talk about courage leads me to a wonderful phrase from a song I love, “And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.” It is captured in a lovely little book written by the song’s writers, Mark Sanders and Tia Sillers, titled I Hope you Dance (Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, TN: 2000).

I think our future will take creativity, courage, and, for most of us, a new culture. I hope we dance. As always, I treasure your thoughts. I’m at support@pqsystems.com.
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