Six Sigma and more: Art leads the way

David SchwinnWhat the world needs now: Music awards stimulate David Schwinn to think of the ways that creative expression underscores the fundamentals in Six Sigma and process improvement.

I turned off the television a few nights ago thinking of the old phrase that “Art leads the way.” There is a general belief that art is the precursor to transformational and revolutionary change. That belief led to this column.

What my wife, Carole, and I were watching was this year’s presentation of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song to Burt Bacharach and Hal David. I had no idea how significantly those two influenced my own view of popular music until I did the research for this column. I have been listening to them since high school. That’s a very long time.

The concert, of course, was wonderful, but what really struck me were Burt Bacharach’s comments as he closed the ceremony with his own rendition of “What the World Needs Now.” He began with a tribute to Hal David, the lyricist of those many songs they have authored together. David, 90, was unable to attend because he was recovering from a stroke. Bacharach said how important were the words in “Alfie” but the words in “What the World Needs Now” were even more relevant to today’s world. I looked them up. The common denominator between the two songs was love, but I agree with Bacharach; the lyrics from “What the World Needs Now” capture what we need now and what we need tomorrow. Here’s the theme:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of;
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.

When we left for my sabbatical last year, we committed “to search for a higher level, more conscious practice of management and leadership.” As I reflect on what we found, we certainly found what we were looking for. But looking at it from Bacharach’s and David’s perspective, we also found love. We saw it in the lunches the owner of the Los Candiles Hotel in Santa Ana, Costa Rica, made for her employees. We saw it in the graceful gentleness with which Nomfundo Walaza, Chief Executive of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in Cape Town, South Africa, lived out the Peace Centre’s vision that she shared with the United States Congress on March 18, 2009:

…we can imagine a world committed to peace. A world in which everyone lives together as a family, everyone is loved, heard, cared for and unique. A world in which everyone matters and the essential good in everyone is manifested.

We saw it in the respect and affection that Graeme Storer, Director of VBNK, a nonprofit organization that focuses on training leaders for the development world, and two of his Cambodian colleagues, Mor Lean and Seoung Sothearwat, had for one another in Phnom Phen, Cambodia, as they strove to help other Cambodians become more confident and capable leaders. We saw it in the commitment and relationships at Oleana, a Norwegian producer of knitwear that may be the most beautiful anywhere in the world.  Its founders, Kolbjorn Valestrand and Signe Aarhus, note that their “biggest ambition is not to earn as much money as possible, but to make beautiful products in natural fibres – wool, silk, and alpaca, and to have a thriving working atmosphere in our factory.” They have managed to be successful and nurture that atmosphere without needing to export jobs, while everyone else in the textile industry has had to export jobs for years in order to survive. We also saw love in many other of our visits, but I want to move to my own experience in recent years.

I have been employed at Lansing Community College for the last ten years and have found a sense of love both in the Small Business & Technology Development Center where I started and, more recently, in the Management & Leadership Program team. That sense of love parallels a sense of trust and honesty that makes our work important, innovative, productive, and a pleasure to do. I believe our customers reap the benefits as do, obviously, the people who work there.

These things cannot help but improve your Six Sigma effort. Look around. Something may already be going on. Check it out. Illuminate it. Start something if it doesn’t already exist. You don’t have to name it. Nurture it. It frees the soul. I wish you love. As our old friend and colleague, Jack Bundy, former executive vice president the Greenwood, South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, used to say, “And the people said, ‘Amen’.”

As always, I treasure your thoughts. You can reach me by commenting below.