Watching television these days feels like going to a low-rent carnival. Everyone is shouting to you, grabbing at you, grease-smiling and cheese-baiting... and that's just the talk shows. Is there any guest on any late night show who isn't selling something? Anyone who isn't telling stories written by an image team? Now, the people who brought you TV are taking over the Internet.
– Dale Dauten, final Corporate Curmudgeon column (2011)
For those of you who have tenaciously made your way through the past six-week, grueling Balestracci belt process: BRAVO!, BRAVA!, and congratulations. Today is graduation day!
(Get your printable certification here. Today, I am a proud Jolly Roger Belt, and you can even revel in this congratulatory video praising your accomplishment.)
I guess I should do a commencement speech:
You can indeed be proud of your achievement -- you are on the road to true competence through a transformed mindset of conscious, built-in improvement. But, alas, the rough road of reality awaits you: your certification and $3 will get you a cup of coffee. (Plot something!)
In the nine years since my beloved stealth mentor Dauten's quote above, things are even worse -- the internet has indeed been "taken over" in a way he never imagined. This and today's “bigger…better…faster…more…now…and FREE!” world has worn me down.
A growing perception of obsolescence is creeping over my professional generation. Many of us still have a lot to offer, but, in a vein similar to what Yogi Berra once said about baseball, “If people ain’t gonna call or listen to ya’, how’re you gonna stop ‘em?”
Over the last couple of years, trying to think of new newsletter topics, I finally realized that I’ve said it all – that is, all that needed to be said to set up “built-in improvement" as opposed to today’s ubiquitous manifestations of “bolt-on quality." So, I decided on a last hurrah, with these seven weekly newsletters as a call to action. All it requires is your wherewithal to DO it (plot something!) and keep learning.
I’ll never formally retire and plan to continue writing articles for LinkedIn and Quality Digest; but it's time to say, "Enough!" I’m exhausted dealing with all the relentless nonsense surrounding us daily in the manifestations of Dauten's quote. As I pass the torch to you, Dauten also frames the never-ending battle you have now inherited with his all-time favorite quote:
"If there are twelve clowns in a ring, you can jump in the middle and start reciting Shakespeare, but to the audience, you'll just be the thirteenth clown." --Adam Walinsky
(Except now there are thousands of clowns to compete with!)
The one skill needed above everything else: competence.
During improvement's evolution through TQM, CQI, Deming, Six Sigma, Lean, Lean Six Sigma, Toyota Production System, and whatever else I’ve missed, there seems to be a never-ending cycle. The real issue with fads occurs when the insights they offer become dogma. When this happens, the wave of energy they have
unlocked gives rise to zealots, people who convert the cool stuff that's happening into the Kool-Aid that turns people off.
Alleged “gurus” will continue their seductive empty calorie inspirational motivation, especially cherry-picked Deming and the latest “Joy in work!” fad. There will never be an end to
academic theories and recycled platitudes manifesting more “leadership vs. management” articles, books, and magic bullets: great theories (on paper) produced by people with too much time for people with too little time that end up being “where the rubber meets the sky.” Boredom sets in and people cry out, "Next!"
Activity continues to be confused with impact, making being SO busy a badge of pride. As Dauten also said in his final column, "What's another way of saying 'workaholic'? Employee of the Year."
There continues to be no "app" for critical thinking
Executive (bragging to W. Edwards Deming): We just bought a $3 million computer!
Deming: Too bad. What you needed was $300K worth of brains.
"The modern world's tech-giddy control and facilitation makes us stupid. Awareness atrophies. Dumb gets dumber. Lists are everywhere—the five things you need to know about so-and-so; the eight essential qualities of such-and-such; the 11 delights of somewhere or other. We demand shortcuts, as if there are shortcuts to genuine experience. These lists are meaningless.... When you are not told what to do,
you begin to think what to do. You begin to see without distraction."
-- Roger Cohen (2013)
W. Edwards Deming had two famous theorems:
Deming’s First Theorem (based on his observations of management behavior): Nobody gives a hoot about profit
Deming’s Second Theorem: We are being ruined by best efforts
I would add a corollary to his first theorem: Nobody seems to give a hoot about improvement.
Deming himself sheds light on the second theorem:
“If everyone did their best, 95 percent of problems would remain.”
I believe that one of Deming’s most profound statements was: “If I had to reduce my message to management to just a few words, I’d say it all has to do with reducing variation.” Expanding my concept of variation to include human variation helped me see its lurking presence as a quality compromiser in the other three aspects of Deming's System of Profound Knowledge (an unfortunate name that still strikes many as too pretentious
for words. Avoid use of the term)
"When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly." – Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD)
In my numerous public speaking engagements over the years, there are two nuggets people seem to remember most. The first is my gentler variation on Marcus Aurelius's quote above: “Those darn humans…God bless ‘em!”
There comes a day when you just have to realize: people are going to act just the way humans are “perfectly designed” to act. It is one of the harsh realities of our profession and, unless you can accept it, learn how to deal with it, and not personalize it, get out of improvement or you’re going to get an ulcer!
The other nugget is from Dale Dauten (from 10 things he learned many years ago as a paper carrier):
- Every 10th person is a jerk
- The other nine are jerks 10 percent of the time.
- I want to be one of the other nine.
In other words, allow for 10 percent 'jerk time'.
It is a "given" that we and our work cultures will exhibit 10 percent jerk time. It is predictable and must be anticipated, formally planned for, and actively managed.
(Dauten also said, "Jerks are like vampires: you hold up a mirror and they see nothing." Use QBQ! to handle the genuine jerks (and everyone knows who they are...))
However, unlike our "darn human" cultures, we improvement professionals don't have the luxury of exhibiting our "jerk time" publicly -- only among colleagues behind closed doors, after which we say, in a true QBQ! spirit, “Those darn humans…God bless ‘em. Tomorrow’s another day. Let's go get 'em!”
And a final, special challenge specifically for my beloved healthcare readers: evaluate your improvement progress to date. (Non-healthcare readers: think about yours or a family member's experience)
In closing, be proud of your accomplishment and the valuable wisdom it has given you, summarized by one of my favorite quotes from John Heider's wonderful The Tao of Leadership:
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 knowing just what to do, your work will become more direct
and more powerful.
You know where to find me…any time:
- I am still available to provide one-on-one mentoring to fuel your wherewithal
- Balestracci belt webinars can catalyze organizational improvement efforts.
With warm regards, best wishes, and godspeed in your exciting new improvement journey,
This may be my last formal newsletter, but I leave you with what I hope are some valuable resources
- Data Sanity was designed to create dialogue between executives and improvement practitioners while simultaneously creating a common organizational language for everyone – to embed “improvement” into leadership and organizational DNA (10 examples in Chapter 2).
- Its 400 pages burst forth out of me in a “white heat” in 2014. It is my unique, practical synthesis of the Deming philosophy (with barely a mention of his name)
Transforming organizations by creating transformed colleagues