David Schwinn explores the idea expressed in the children’s song, “This little light of mine,” and addresses the vulnerabilities and fears we may share when called upon to contribute our own thoughts to improving the system.
Ron Behrens, an old friend and colleague, recently replied to my invitation to share examples of the intelligent use of statistics, such as that used in our Six Sigma projects. I asked for stories, some data and some statistical analyses. With his response, he noted that I had probably already received many such responses. I received none but his! His story began with a discovery of inaccurate data and a lack of a standardized process, just like what many of us see in our operations. His story then illustrated how his organization successfully overcame all that to show that statistical analysis can improve the systems we operate. That is what Six Sigma professionals do.
His expectation got me to thinking about the fact that his was the only story I received. I know we are all busy, and I certainly am not high on the lists of folks we all need and want to respond to…that was my initial reflection. I then remembered the same kind of limited response when, many years ago, I was at Ford World Headquarters and we asked our operations for similar success stories in order to share with the rest of the corporation the fact that this new way of operating and improving systems was working. We got a similar, limited response.
In those days, we were used to getting fast and excellent responses to requests from our operations, so we were surprised. We speculated that they thought that they did not want to be singled out because, perhaps, their story was not good enough or, perhaps, that kind of exemplary performance would start to be expected of them on a regular basis. We also thought maybe they were busy, or maybe they weren’t actually doing the work, but we generally rejected those ideas. As success stories began dribbling in, we did not pursue the reason that our requests were answered with so few responses. I still don’t know why this phenomenon happens. A popular quote from the 1990s came to mind, that might lend a little insight into the puzzle.
In those days, a quote was widely attributed to Nelson Mandela as part of his inaugural address. It follows:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
It turns out that the quote was not part of Mandela’s inaugural, but came from Marianne Williamson from A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles (New York: Harper Publishing, 1992). Not only has Marianne Williamson given us a little more insight into why we fail to respond, but she has explained why we should shine. Other recent research expresses a similar conclusion.
Positive psychologists, professionals in this relatively new discipline, seek to find and nurture genius and talent, and to make normal life more fulfilling rather than merely treating mental illness, according to some authors who have studied the discipline. The idea of seeking to identify, nurture, and illuminate our strengths rather than just repair our inadequacies seems to be a powerful new look at the improvement of human behavior and well-being. This idea has been popularized by enterprises such as the Gallup organization and the University of Michigan.
Finally, a lovely song from childhood comes to mind, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” Let’s give it a try. I think we’ll all be a little better for it.
As always, I cherish your comments and questions…and data. You can reach me by commenting below.