From Davis Balestracci – For 2017, RESOLVE to Simplify and Evolve

Published: Wed, 01/04/17

From Davis Balestracci -- For 2017, Resolve to Simplify and Evolve
Therapist:  What's your main resolution for 2017?

Client:  I would like to lose some weight.

Therapist:  So tell me, what’s your plan for putting on the five pounds this year?

[Designed to be a breezy, challenging New Year read that I hope you will revisit often during 2017 to check your progress.]

"Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful."     -- Matthew E. May

Matthew E. May:  The world is more overwhelming than ever before. Our work is deeper and more demanding than ever. Our businesses are more complicated and difficult to manage than ever. Our economy is more uncertain than ever. Our resources are scarcer than ever. There is endless choice and feature overkill in all but the best experiences. Everybody knows everything about us. The simple life is a thing of the past. Everywhere, there's too much of the wrong stuff and not enough of the right. The noise is deafening, the signal weak. Everything is too complicated and time-sucking.
Law of Subtraction:  The art of removing anything excessive, confusing, wasteful, unnatural, hazardous, hard to use, or ugly...or the discipline to refrain from adding it in the first place.

Hi, Folks,

In spite of the overwhelming odds against me, every New Year I firmly resolve to re-ignite my relentless passion about creating a critical mass of colleagues comitted to practicing improvement as "built-in" to cultural DNA using data sanity.  

Will this be the year you join me?

Here is a challenging roadmap of 12 synergistic resolutions for those of you willing to take this non-trivial risk:

Resolve to ask yourself: "Have I unintentionally evolved into a 'qualicrat'?"

The formalization of organizational quality improvement efforts into a separate silo with increasing (and excruciating) formality has been an unstoppable evolution. I suppose one could look at it as evolving from Neanderthal to Cro-Magnon.  But improvement seems to have settled for and is stuck in the "good enough" mediocrity of Cro-Magnon! 

I suppose one benefit of this evolution has been serious acceptance of quality as a viable career path.  But the consequence of this has been an expensive self-sustaining training sub-industry -- not all of it competent -- with countless certifications and belts.

Jim Clemmer pinpoints this trend perfectly:

The quality movement [has given] rise to a new breed of techno-manager—the qualicrat. These support professionals see the world strictly through data and analysis, and their quality improvement tools and techniques. While they work hard to quantify the ‘voice of the customer,’ the face of current customers (and especially potential new customers) is often lost. Having researched, consulted, and written extensively on quality improvement, I am a big convert to, and evangelist for, the cause. But some efforts are getting badly out of balance as customers, partners, and team members are reduced to numbers, charts, and graphs.

 [Jim's brief article containing this quote is well worth reading]

Training programs, completion certificates, or professional credentials are important only when they contribute to real quality on the ground, as experienced by your customers (internal and external) on a sustained basis.

Resolve to stop taking charts like this too seriously:


Resolve to:

 Unclutter Your Mind *

Beginners acquire new theories and techniques until their minds are cluttered with options.
Advanced students forget their many options. 

They allow the theories and techniques that they have learned to recede into the background.

Learn to unclutter your mind.
Learn to simplify your work.

As you rely less and less on thinking you know exactly what to do, your work will become more direct and more powerful.
You will discover that the quality of your consciousness is more potent than any technique or theory or interpretation.

Learn how fruitful the blocked group or individual suddenly becomes when you give up trying to do just the right thing.

* -- # 48 from  John Heider's The Tao of Leadership, which takes each of the original Tao te Ching’s 81 gems of wisdom and brilliantly adapts it to a context of becoming a truly great leader.

Resolve to take a break from a natural human bias for action. 

Matthew E. May has 10 "brutal, even ruthless" questions that your should consider en masse to refrain from a typical beginning-of-year blind gung-ho charge to change your world.  Answer honestly:

  • What’s really driving your need for change?

  • What new aspirations guide your goals?

  • What truth is not being addressed?

  • What do you need to understand better?

  • What new ways of thinking and acting are needed to support this change?

  • How will you facilitate the development of these new behaviors?

  • To what degree do you truly understand and own the change process?

  • What are major learning objectives that support your change effort?

  • What new perceptions, values, and experiences will be critical to your success?

  • What is the most positive way in which you can proceed?

Resolve to answer these questions in a way to take personal accountability for going far beyond settling for vague, mediocre Cro-Magnon organizational improvement success.

GIVEN:  Despite 35+ years of Increased Quality Awareness, Attention Deficit Executives are still the Norm

Isn’t it time to acknowledge that improvement efforts have consistently failed to produce a necessary critical mass of leaders who develop the competence and confidence to practice improvement as built-in to daily cultural DNA?  

The ongoing issue of attention deficit executives -- and promotion processes that are perfectly designed to perpetuate them -- continues.  

Have improvement professionals truly examined their role in contributing to and compounding this serious problem, possibly by (1) boring them to death while proudly wearing qualicrat hats and (2) getting vague results from vague solutions to vague problems -- problems that somehow never manage to go away?  These certainly don’t help to get you the respect your role deserves.

Resolve to "own" this problem.  These are issues that certainly aren’t going away any time soon unless some innovative overall approaches to improvement itself are developed.  

Resolve to stop confusing activity with impact – “Don’t just do something, stand there!"  

Resolve to read John Miller’s book QBQ! The question behind the question (takes < 1 hour) to think differently about what you are doing versus what you should be doing, and

Resolve to first -- quietly -- get results that can’t help but get executives' and leaders' attention while letting them get all the credit.  

Hint: it probably won’t involve the things they tell you to work on.  May I suggest that addressing data INsanity at meetings might be a good place to start?  That said...

Resolve to focus on reducing "the four other C's" of confusion, conflict, complexity, and chaos rather than costs!  Imprint in your brain that focusing on costs always increases costs!

Resolve to simply “plot some dots” to change some conversations.  Then enjoy the reactions to your eye-popping results...and increased respect.

Resolve to read these two quotes at the beginning of every work day:

Jim Verzino:   Nobody plans for poor quality management solutions. But over time, harmless little decisions can derail a quality management system.   

Each time we choose to sacrifice the good of the system for one person, or allow an ineffective, outdated legacy practice to continue, we take small steps toward lower and lower standards.

When we have a culture that puts quality and environmental attainment at a lower priority than feelings and keeping the status quo, slowly we make the hundreds of decisions that eat away at total performance...

Every week tens, if not hundreds, of little decisions like these are made in a large company. Any one decision will not make or break the system. However, hundreds of decisions being made with a priority on entrenched personnel or ideas rather than the higher goals of continuous improvement will bring the system to its knees over time...

In the end, nobody plans to have poor quality or environmental performance.  It sneaks up on us...[as] the sum of so many bad decisions.


Mariela Dabbah:  Enough of attending meetings that lead to building a bridge to nowhere, enough of asking what I'm supposed to ask rather than what needs to be asked, enough of praising people who are undeserving of praise, enough of valuing form over substance, enough of accepting good when what is needed is outstanding, enough of enabling people to act as victims when they need to take personal responsibility. 

Inevitably, this kind of shift doesn't happen unless a substantial number of leaders put their collective foot down and say 'Enough!' in unison.


These are hardly your typical empty motivational calories.  If you've been reading my writings long enough, you know what to do.  As Lao-Tzu says in one of the most famous quotes in the Tao te Ching, "The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step."  Take it -- "Plot a dot that makes people "sweat!"

Please know you have a colleague here who would gladly be with you every step of the way.  I sincerely hope many of our paths cross in 2017 and we get to do some great work together.

Is 2017 the year you finally say, "Enough!" to Cro-Magnon mediocrity?

Best wishes,

Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 6 of Data Sanity would be a solid roadmap for navigating all 12 of these resolutions. 
Data Sanity: A Quantum Leap to Unprecedented Results is a unique synthesis of the sane use of data, culture change, and leadership principles to create a road map for excellence.

One of its major goal is to create a common organizational language for healthier dialogue about reducing ongoing confusion, conflict, complexity, and chaos. 

[UK and other international readers who want a hard copy:  ordering through U.S. Amazon is your best bet]

Click  here or visit my LinkedIn profile for a copy of its Preface and chapter summaries.

Please know that I always have time for you and am never too answer a question, discuss opportunities for a leadership or staff retreat, webinar, mentoring, or public speaking --  or just about any other reason!  Don't hesitate to e-mail or phone me.

Please visit my LinkedIn page to listen to a 10-minute podcast or watch a 10-minute video interview where I talk about data sanity.

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