Parable of the Sower: 10 Ways of Healing a Fractured Nation

I was planning to write a series of blog posts last week, but I was sandbagged by two events, 1) the decisions by grand juries not to prosecute anyone for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the ensuing protests, 2) the revelations of the so-called Torture Report that our government condoned the torturing of prisoners.

It seemed in both cases that both the values and the institutions of this country were somehow broken, and it was very disheartening.   I had no mental energy to blog, and in this lowly state I caught a cold which dug in and refused to dislodge itself for several days.   So the theme of “healing” had been on my mind earlier this week when suddenly the phrase “the parable of the sower” came to me while I was warming my body in the shower.

It was interesting because that phrase has a double connotation for me.   The phrase “Parable of the Sower” reminds me of the Biblical parable told by Jesus which most scholars think is optimistic in outlook, in that despite numerous initial failures of the seed to take because of the unreceptive ground on which it is cast, eventually the “seed” cast by the sower will be successful, take root and produce a large crop.   

The other connotation of the phrase “Parable of the Sower” for me is the science-fiction dystopic novel written by Octavia Butler.   It is set in a future where the government has collapsed and society has reverted to anarchy due to the extremes of economic inequality.   Lauren Olamina, a young African-American woman, develops hyperempathy, the ability to feel the pain and sensations of others, escapes with some survivors after her community is destroyed and her family murdered.   On the route north with some survivors, she tries to start a community where her religion called Earthseed which espouses the central tenet

“whether you’re a human being, an insect, a microbe, or a stone, this verse is true:

All that you touch,

You Change,

All that you Change

Changes you.

The only lasting truth

Is Change.”

I am inspired by Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” to write about trying to heal a fractured community.   However, it is not as grand as Lauren Olamina’s vision of a new religion which recreates a new community in the collapsed remnants of the old.   What I want to do is write about those ways in which I personally plan to try to “light a candle in the darkness” in order not to start a new community per se, but at least to make life in this little corner of the community a little bit better for those around me.   Some of my efforts will not bear fruit, so I have to focus on my actions themselves, and not the fruits of those actions.   I have to have faith in the “Parable of the Sower” from the Bible in that most of my efforts will not be successful, but the ones that are successful … will have an effect.

Here’s the series of posts I plan on writing as part of the series.

1.  Experience the Other, not the Narrative

2.  Choose:  Pay it Forward or Break the Chain

3.  Find a Balance between Compassion and Tough Love

4.  Increase your Relationship-Wealth

5.  Empathize with Your Enemies

6.  Come out of the Shadow

7.  Adjust your Attitude and your Altitude

8.  Communicate in a Sacred Manner

9.  Learn a New Language:  Become a Mapmaker

10.  Follow the Hero’s Journey: Become a Mythmaker

This is a series of personal posts that I plan to write until the New Year arrives, and I hope to reflect on what I have been able to learn in the past year and a half since I have moved back here to the Chicagoland area from Southern California.   Of course, I write out of my own experience in the hope that some readers will find some echo of their own experience in what I write.   Hey, I’m just planting seeds, after all!

Six Sigma–Preparing an Organization’s Culture for Change

The last two chapters of the book Six Sigma:  The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations, by Mikel Harry, Ph.D., and Richard Schroeder, contain some very interesting material.

Most of the book is concerned with how to get the physical results changed through a Six Sigma process run by Black Belts.    Both of these are external phenomena, meaning that one deals with the physical environment, and the other with the social environment in the form of a Six Sigma project team.

The last two chapters deal with internal phenomena, namely, the psychology of Six Sigma (chapter 14) and the culture of Six Sigma (chapter 15).   A culture is a series of shared values, and the authors talk about how to prepare an organization’s culture so that Six Sigma can effectively change the organization.

Mikel Harry’s belief is that, rather than trying to change a company’s culture to adopt Six Sigma in order to achieve hard, unmistakable results, the adoption should be done first with an eye towards achieving hard, unmistakable results which then force an organization to reassess values and beliefs.

And yet … and yet I wonder if there has to be some sort of psychological and social priming that has to occur first.  It must become apparent that old practices no longer work.   This gives people a sense of being open to new solutions.    A very telling anecdote comes in the beginning of the section called “Results Change Cultures; Cultures Don’t Change Results.”

Joseph Juran was one of the masterminds behind the Japanese approach to quality.   Its focused efforts to recover after it lost in World War II made it more receptive to change than the Western world which had won the war.   It made the phrase “Made in Japan” go from being synonymous with shoddy goods prior to World War II to meaning world-class quality as it does now.  The words he and Dr. Edwards Deming were NO DIFFERENT than the ones they had been telling American audiences for years.   The difference was that the Japanese audiences heard and interpreted them.   It was only after economic shocks had rocked the Western world in the 1970s and 1980s that Americans started paying attention to what they had been saying.

You have to create success stories with your first Six Sigma projects that will break the resistance of others to its power to change the organization.   In retrospect, this is why the selection of Six Sigma projects has to start with those that have the greatest impact in terms of reduction of defects that are critical-to-quality and which impact the bottom line.

In fact, this is analogous to the success story of Six Sigma, but on a global scale.   Companies like GE and Motorola whose company culture has been transformed through the success brought about by Six Sigma cause other companies, first in similar industries, and then in industries totally unrelated, to think “maybe we can have a similar success?”   It is in the posing of that question of wonder that the mind becomes open to the possibility of it happening.   Unfortunately, like many great ideas, it doesn’t necessarily take hold in an organization like wildfire.   Why?  Because there are many “wet blankets” who are willing to put out that fire because the methods are new and are outside their comfort zone.   Well, you know what else is outside one’s comfort zone?   Having one’s company go out of business?

In the tumultuous economic times we now live in with global competition, one can literally not afford to be aware of Six Sigma.   That’s why in the first month of the new year coming up, my first New Year’s resolution is to obtain my Green Belt certification.   In today’s world, it is a vocabulary you need to learn in order to be able to converse fluently with those who speak the language of quality!

Toastmasters District 30 (Chicagoland) Winter Toastmasters Leadership Institute

to be continued on Sunday, December 7th

Toastmasters District 30 (Chicagoland) Winter Toastmasters Leadership Institute

to be completed on Sunday, 12/07/2014

Six Sigma–The Psychology of Motivating Black Belts

In explaining the psychology behind Six Sigma, the authors of the book Six Sigma:  The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations, Mikel Harry, Ph.D., and Richard Schroeder use a familiar figure from the psychology of human motivation, Abraham Maslow.

Maslow pointed out that human needs can be placed in a hierarchy as follows:

  1. Physiological–hunger, thirst, shelter, sex
  2. Safety–security, protection from physical and emotional harm
  3. Social–affection, belonging, acceptance, and friendship
  4. Esteem or ego–self-respect, autonomy, and achievement; status, recognition, and attention
  5. Self-actualization–stretching to do things one hasn’t done before, learning new things, play

The basic idea of the hierarchy of needs is that if you don’t have category 1 fulfilled, you’re not going to really care about the needs at higher levels.   Only when the lower-level needs are fulfilled, will the human being crave those needs from the higher levels.

This is just a great ordering principle that I use it for my planning diary.   Here are the twelve categories I use:

1.  Health (physiological)

2.  Organization (safety)

3.  Finances (safety)

4.  Work (social)

5.  Family (social)

6.  Networking (social)

7.  Spiritual Community (social)

8.  Professional Development (esteem or ego)

9.  Toastmasters (esteem or ego)

10.  Reading (self-actualization)

11.  Language Learning (self-actualization)

12.  Games (self-actualization)

The twelve areas I organize my daily, weekly, and monthly goals in are arranged in the order of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.   How does this fit in with the author’s discussion of motivating black belts?

It is a given that black belts need compensation (physiological/safety needs), and that they need written and verbal recognition (social needs), and the promise of promotion (esteem or ego needs).   But they also need support in the sense of not worrying about the failure of a single project as long as they and the organization LEARN from the failure through a lessons learned process.   Punishing failure assures that no one dares to stretch, to “dream the impossible dream.”   It is in this area, of the willingness of Black Belts to pursue stretch goals (self-actualization needs) that the company can really motivate Black Belts to keep learning and to inspire others through teaching.

Don’t just worry about the company’s bottom line; if you get Black Belts to start feeling passionate about their projects and learn to be self-motivated through stretch goals, the financial needs of the company will be met, now and in the future.

Six Sigma–Key Metrics for Project Selection

In the thirteenth chapter of their book Six Sigma:  The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations, the authors Mikel Harry, Ph.D., and Richard Schroeder discuss how to select and prioritize Six Sigma projects within a corporation.

Here are the various metrics that can be used to select projects.

1.  Defects per million opportunities (DPMO)

The total number of defects per unit divided by the total number of opportunities for defects per unit, multiplied by 1,000,000.  Let’s say there are 10 defects per unit that has 100,000 opportunities for such defects per unit.    This means that there is 1 defect per 10,000 opportunities, or 0.01%.   If you multiply this percentage times 1,000,000 you get 100 defects per million opportunities.   This is somewhere between 5 sigma (233 DPMO) and 6 sigma (3.4 DMPO).

2.  Net cost savings

Reductions in variable or fixed costs.

3.  Cost of poor quality

The cost of repairing defects once they are detected, or the warranty and product liability costs of defects that are not detected in the factory and get in the hands of consumers.

4.  Capacity, cycle time

The number of units a process is able to produce in a given period of time, and the length of time it takes to produce a product or service.

As you could probably guess after reading the book so far, the authors think that a focus on “capacity and cycle time” is the least fruitful approach.   Why try to increase capacity if you are not trying to increase quality?   So that MORE defective parts can fly out of the machine?

The focus on cost of poor quality and net cost savings is a good one to show how defective quality impacts the bottom line.  However, the one most easily adaptable to the world of Six Sigma is the first one, the focus on defects per million opportunities or DPMO, and this is what the authors recommend as a key metric.

Another good metric for project selection is customer satisfaction, but the only problem with this is to make sure it is actually measurable.   Once the characteristics of the product are identified as critical-to-quality, then you can be sure that the efforts you make in reducing defects are going to translate to greater customer satisfaction.

There are other metrics possible, but the ones mentioned here are the key metrics towards making quality improvements have the greatest possible impact on the bottom line.

In the next chapter, the authors focus on an interesting topic:   the psychology of Six Sigma.

Six Sigma–Project Selection Should be Top-Down, not Bottom-Up

In the thirteenth chapter of their book Six Sigma:  The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations, the authors Mikel Harry, Ph.D., and Richard Schroeder discuss how to select and prioritize Six Sigma projects within a corporation.

There is a top-down approach, where a senior manager called a Senior Champion considers a company’s major business issues and objectives and proposes a series of strategic improvement projects.   A Six Sigma Champion then takes this strategic vision and identifies processes, CTQs (Critical-to-Quality Characteristics), and specific opportunities for improvement.

The bottom-up approach is where production managers make suggestions for projects on their needs to achieve budget reductions, resolve specific quality problems, or improve process flow.

Which of these two approaches do the authors favor?   Not surprisingly, given the word “Strategy” in the title of their book, they recommend the top-down approach.   This is because the focus should be on Six Sigma projects that offer the greatest financial and customer-satisfaction leverage.   Although the authors don’t explicitly say so, I believe part of the reason for that is practical, in that you want to get the best bang for your buck, especially if you are paying for the salary of the Black Belts and their training.   But I can see where another reason is political.   Whenever you decide to make a sweeping change in an organization, as is required with the Six Sigma Breakthrough Strategy, you are going to get some resistance from the “old guard”.   This is not a reference to chronological age, but psychological flexibility.   For some, a new way of doing things gets people out of their comfort zone, which by definition is not a comfortable place to be.   But let’s say you are trying to implement a Six Sigma Breakthrough Strategy as a Senior Champion, and yet face resistance from senior managers.

When your first projects are those that are designed to create the greatest financial and customer-satisfaction improvements, those first results will also be political leverage to use in senior management circles to convince those who are skeptical of the Breakthrough Strategy.   It gives people who are skeptical a way to save face by saying, “well, I was skeptical, but I can’t argue with the results.”   It makes it a discussion about progress and principles, and not about personalities.

And that is yet another reason why a top-down approach is best.   The reason why a bottom-up approach will not work is that, although production managers may identify possible Six Sigma projects, it is up to the Six Sigma champion to choose which of those projects most align with the vision proposed by the Senior Champion.

That’s how you get the entire company working as a team, which is the fastest way for a Six Sigma Breakthrough Strategy to be implemented.

This is all good in theory, of course, but there must be tangible, objective criteria used to prioritize Six Sigma projects.  Those key metrics used to compare Six Sigma projects will be discussed in the next post.


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