Six Sigma and more: Find the good…

David SchwinnDavid Schwinn is inspired by the patriotic events of January that celebrate who we are as Americans, and the documents that assure our democracy and equal treatment of citizens.

As I write, today was the 2013 Presidential Inaugural and someone quoted the American author, Alex Haley, as writing, “Find the good and praise it.” It felt as if that is what we, the American people did today. I was reminded that a Presidential inauguration is a celebration of America and what it stands for. The inauguration celebrates a peaceful transition of power after a sometimes, incredibly divisive campaign. While that is certainly something to celebrate, I think there is more.

We are an amazingly diverse country that makes living here fun and interesting, at the same time that it causes us challenges because of the fear we innately have of difference. In the invocation today, I was reminded of our diversity, when Myrlie Evers-Williams, a civil rights activist and widow of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, gave the invocation. She closed with “In Jesus’ name and the name of all who are holy and right, we pray. Amen.” With that, she stated the power of Christianity in our country’s culture and beliefs while acknowledging that we all do not and need not share that set of beliefs in that language. When James Taylor sang “America the Beautiful,” I was reminded that our country is remarkably beautiful, but so are we…each and every one of us…each in truly unique and wonderfully different ways. That beauty again shone in the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in both the diversity of the choir and majesty of the music they created. It was yet another reminder that with diversity comes beauty. That diverse perspective was matched with an embrace of our unity when the President began his address.

The President argued that what holds us together and keeps us the country the world wants to look up to comes from our Declaration of Independence. That section of the document that so many of us always remember is:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

The President noticed that while we have come a long way toward the living of that declaration, we still have a long way to go.

I was reminded of how far we have to go when the poet, Richard Blaco, in his poem, “One Today,” spoke of the one sun shining light on both:

The ‘I have a dream’ we keep dreaming
… and the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever.

The tragedy of Newtown continues to burn in the psyche of our country as we try to fathom the causes of such a loss. Maybe if we all felt the rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, such things would happen a little less frequently.

The United States of America is made up of immigrants of different sizes, shapes, colors, countries, genders, sexual orientations, socio-economic status, ages, physical and mental abilities, religious beliefs, and political beliefs among other things. We are happy to claim our “inalienable rights”…of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. As a matter of fact, we are passionate about claiming those rights. Maybe all that is what makes America great, for all its problems. Our country is a work in progress, as are all institutions.

So what’s the lesson for our Six Sigma efforts? I think we fail on two fronts. First, we miss or destroy the advantages of our diversity. Second, we are not clear about what holds us together.

In most of the organizations I have worked with or in over the years, the differences among those connected with an organization or a community are, at a minimum, unknown. Sometimes those differences are known, but ignored. Sometimes those differences are even penalized in hiring, promotions, opportunities given, and support provided although there is plenty of research that diverse teams make better decisions and are more creative, for example. My guess is that we frequently do not even know how the people connected to our Six Sigma effort are different from ourselves and from one another. Those differences probably represent strengths that would add to the success of our Six Sigma efforts. As an example, a course I recently taught had a webmaster, two poets, and a felon in it. Those qualities were not part of the entry requirements for the course. We were able to take full advantage of all those skills and perspectives by learning together in remarkable ways that would have been impossible without that diversity.

The second lesson is about exploring what holds us together. It seems so simple, but is so frequently lacking. I remember my first job in management was managing an incoming inspection department…you may not be old enough to remember them. Our job was simply to keep bad stuff from getting into the production line. As a leader, all I had to do was remind folks that our mission was to keep bad stuff out and then to consistently act as though that was true. Many of our organizations are not clear about what we are trying to do. Even when we clearly state what ought to hold us together, we frequently act as though the unstated goals such as short-term profits, “getting rich and getting out,” looking good, or getting promoted are more important. It’s difficult to keep people on task when they’re not sure what the real goals are.

What we celebrated on Inauguration Day may be the best of what we are as Americans. It may also represent the best of who we are as human beings. Celebrating and embracing our diversity while we hold sacred what holds us together might be one way to “Find the good and praise it.

As always, I treasure your comments and questions. You can reach me by commenting below.

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