Six Sigma and more: Authenticity

David SchwinnDavid Schwinn sees that personal transformation is fundamental to transformation in organizations, with authenticity critical to this transformation.

Last evening, I noticed a TV commercial about variable height desktops that permit people to either stand or sit while using them. They claimed to “transform” the way we work. Maybe. Last month, I wrote about how finding and acting on a “larger” purpose can result in both increased passion and performance at work. This month, I want to examine yet another way to “transform” our Six Sigma work. I’ll call it authenticity.

My wife Carole, and our friend and colleague, Peter Norlin, are leading an online experiment in group human development called Circles for the Human Spirit with several of our friends and colleagues. The purpose of Circles for the Human Spirit is to deepen our self-awareness; strengthen our relationships with others; and cultivate an intimate connection with the wholeness of the human spirit. We believe this experiment can be one way to actualize the concept of a transformative workplace, as described in our book The Transformative Workplace ( The experiment involves coming together virtually for 90 minutes once a month for twelve months. The practices covered include:







For purposes of this experiment and this column, let’s define authenticity as considering what it means to live our lives with integrity, making sure that our deepest beliefs and values are represented in our actions and our relationships. This is the kind of authenticity referenced by New York Times columnist David Brooks, when he wrote about Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s distinction between “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” Resume virtues are those skills one brings to the marketplace, while eulogy virtues are “deeper, who you are in your depth, what is the nature of your relationships, are you bold, loving, dependable, consistency.” Rabbi Soloveitchik thought of these virtues as two sides of our nature that are in a constant state of tension, requiring us to work at integrating them in the way we live our lives (Carole and David Schwinn, The Transformative Workplace, Transformations Press Unltd, 2015).

Another way to think about authenticity is to consider what it means to live according to the beat of our own drummer or being the authors of our own lives. For many of us, standing up to the messages we receive from influential others, including our parents, teachers, and mentors, and to the expectations of co-workers, colleagues, or supervisors, can be a nearly insurmountable challenge. These pressures, and even the ordinary demands of daily life, can seriously inhibit our ability to discover and act on our own inner drives and ambitions.

Still another way of looking at living an authentic life is the process of discovering our genuine and unique role in the larger world, or who we have come here to be in this life. Brian Swimme, evolutionary cosmologist and co-author, with Thomas Berry, of The Universe Story (San Francisco: Harper, 1992), describes this discovery process as one that can come about in a moment or one that can take a lifetime to unfold.

One person for whom an authentic role appeared in a moment is Rita Marie Johnson, founder of the Rasur Foundation International. When she was only 10 years old, growing up in rural Missouri, Rita Marie and her brother were waiting on their farmhouse porch for the annual Fourth of July fireworks to begin. Growing impatient and deciding to go for a walk down the road, she remembers coming upon an extraordinary Missouri sunset and being immediately filled with a sense of peaceful calm. During her first encounter with what she now refers to as being “guided into her life,” she clearly heard her inner voice say, “You will work for peace.” While she remembers thinking, “I couldn’t imagine what it could possibly mean,” she also recollects a sense of deep reassurance that the meaning would become clear. That confidence was well placed: Rita Marie’s organization is known, among other things, as the nonprofit organization that dramatically influenced the establishment of the world’s first national Department of Peace in Costa Rica. (The Transformative Workplace).

For most of us, the pathway to discovering our unique and authentic role in the world isn’t quite so dramatic or so easy. As Brian Swimme tells us, we might have a certain sense of it even when we are children, “a sense of what we’re here for, a kind of fascination for a certain kind of life, or a deep passion, but it is only in the process of life itself, by pursuing these visions and these passions that we begin to discover what our authentic role is.”

Parker Palmer put it this way, in his book, Let Your Life Speak, “We are like plants, full of tropisms that draw us toward certain experiences and repel us from others. If we can learn to read our own responses to our own experience – a text we are writing unconsciously every day we spend on earth – we will receive the guidance we need to live more authentic lives.” (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2000)

Discovering and giving expression to our authentic role, according to Swimme, is “the ultimate creative act,” and one that has consequences for the whole of life. Here, he says, “is the promise of a new story. As we find our way into our authentic self, the community of life will blossom for us. That’s the fundamental mystery of authenticity: it is generated by a deep exploration within, and yet it ignites a vibrancy of life without.”

See Brian Swimme’s video on Authenticity at:

Then, briefly, tell the story of what you have discovered over time about your unique role in the world. How did those discoveries come about? How have you embraced that role? How do you honor it in how you show up in the world? Could you give that authentic self a name? What challenges do you face in living authentically in that role? These are not easy questions to answer. In the Circles for the Human Spirit experience, we began with exploring some of the insights above, then spent some time in silence, and finally shared some insights with one another…then took more time further exploring who our authentic selves are and what we want to do about it.

I can imagine exploring authenticity alone or, better yet, with colleagues and friends as a way to help us all be a little more authentic in our roles at work. What a way to juice up our Six Sigma efforts!

As always, I treasure your thoughts and questions.

2 thoughts on “Six Sigma and more: Authenticity

  1. David,

    Your essays are always insightful and encouraging. I have undergone a transformation of my own over the last three years. This led me to being removed from my offices at church because the pastor believes he has the authority to decide what others ought to believe. I, clearly, disagree. I believe that standing for what I believe, and teaching it when I have the opportunity, is a small part of my authenticity.

    Then recently I saw the entire Deming film. The changes above allowed me to understand what he was saying much more clearly. Hopefully that’s making a difference in how I relate to people both on and off the job.

    Thanks again for sharing your insight.

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