Six Sigma and more: Resilience

David SchwinnTrue grit: David Schwinn reflects on Margaret Wheatley’s message related to a theme of “Resilience: Strength through Compassion and Connection,” and adds the importance of celebration in the development of strength.

At the invitation of our friend and colleague, Margaret (Meg) Wheatley, my wife, Carole, and I just returned from New Orleans and a conference named “Resilience: Strength through Compassion and Connection.” I want to share some thoughts about the conference theme and I want to add strength through celebration because we were in the party town, New Orleans, and because celebration was an unstated, yet important, part of the conference.

We arrived in New Orleans the night before the conference was to start and immediately went out for a seafood dinner and on to a wonderful Cajun restaurant for dessert, Cajun music, and dancing. Our first and lasting memory about this trip to New Orleans is about celebration! Having set the stage, let me move on to what we learned at the conference about using connection, compassion, and celebration to strengthen our Six Sigma efforts.

Meg kicked off the conference by examining what she sees as a dark current situation. She recalled a recent Harvard Business Review article that stated how many organizations are expecting their employees to work 2-4 times harder than their capacity to do so. She also noted the high rate of growth of rules and regulations everywhere. Sound familiar? She finally reported on conversations she has been having with folks about the results of these two trends. It seems that when we are asked to do impossible tasks according to well-meaning but ill-conceived rules and regulations, we figure out a way to survive. We figure out how to meet the rules and regulations that will punish us if not met, and appear to perform the impossible tasks assigned. The results that all quality-oriented people know are, of course, a sacrifice in quality. At best, poor quality is delivered to the customer and/or consumer and, at worst, the product or service leaves those we serve worse off than if we’d done nothing at all. As I reflect on this phenomenon, I can think of no sector that is untouched. Have we learned nothing in the last thirty years of quality consciousness?

In a panel discussion with Meg and Richard Davidson, professor and primary researcher in the area of neuroscience, brain imaging, and healthy minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, concluded with a most striking comment about connection. When asked to provide a closing comment, he said “Bring some food, especially sweets and cookies, to have some serious conversations with our family and neighbors…and don’t forget to make some fresh friends from time to time.” His Holiness, of course, had more to say about connection.

The Dalai Lama made clear that we should all focus on our sameness instead of our differences. For example, he said… “we all want to live a happy life and we all have right to do so.” (my emphasis) ( He added that we may need to temper our attachment to family, friends, and co-workers because those strong attachments may cause us to think of other people as outside those circles of attachment and, therefore, different from us. He mentioned specifically religion as another institution we should temper our attachment to for the same reason that it tends to cause us to exclude people with other beliefs. That caused me to think about our workplace attachments. When we too strongly attach to other Six Sigma professionals, our own team, department, location, division, or even organization, we tend to shut others beyond those circles out. His Holiness’ comments later, at the University of New Orleans Lakefront Arena in a part of the city inundated by flooding after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, summarize the importance of connection nicely.

We need to begin to see other human beings as part of ‘us’ not ‘them’ and this planet as our home, because we depend on each other and we’re connected to each other. We can no longer think only in terms of our territory or our nation; we have to think on a global level. (

Let’s move to compassion with a definition by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. He has said, “Genuine compassion is based not on our own projections and expectations, but rather on the rights of the other: irrespective of whether another person is a close friend or an enemy, as long as that person wishes for peace and happiness and wishes to overcome suffering, then on that basis we develop a genuine concern for his or her problems. This is genuine compassion.” (

Further, he suggested that we might start with compassion with ourselves and others by thinking about worry.

I remember the advice of the 8th century Indian Buddhist master Shantideva that if a problem can be solved there’s no need to worry and if it can’t be solved then worrying is of no use. I also advise people facing difficulties to reflect that they are not the only ones to face such trouble; many other people have gone through what they’re going through too. Worrying about it only adds to the burden. (

When asked how to become compassionate to all sentient beings, he said to start with one person. He concluded with another story.

A senior monk I know spent 17-18 years in Chinese prison after 1959. In the 1980s he was released and was able to join me in India. Once, when we were chatting about his experiences, he told me that there had been dangerous moments during his imprisonment. I thought he meant threats to his life, but he said, ‘No, there were times when there was a danger of my losing compassion for my Chinese captors.’ This is an example of practice in action. He has since been examined by medical scientists who found he has no post-traumatic symptoms. He has physical pains, but no mental unease. (

The third theme here is celebration. I was reminded of the importance of celebration by the New Orleans culture of celebration which overflowed into all the music and dance that intertwined throughout the conference, by Meg’s closing admonition that, at the end of the day, thank yourself (and those around you), and in the closing remark by His Holiness that I mentioned earlier, “Bring some food, especially sweets and cookies…”

Let’s all think about strengthening our Six Sigma efforts through connection, compassion, and celebration. As always, I treasure your comments and questions. You can reach me by commenting below.