The Undergrad Jungle Book (Preview)

(See the update of this post at

I’m releasing a new eBook tonight – January 1, 2011 at 1:30am Eastern Standard Time – in honor of the very Happy New Year to come!

You can download a TWO-CHAPTER PREVIEW here.

High Risk or Low Risk? An Open Exercise

Here’s the scenario: you have a bunch of experts sitting in a room, trying to make a big decision about which of TWO proposed scenarios to accept. One proposal is lower risk, and one is much higher risk. ONLY ONE has the potential for an outcome to fall above the “threshold for a brighter future” – which is kind of (sort of) important in a visceral sense, but not so important that it disqualifies the lower risk proposal.

What would you do? How would you approach the decision making task in this case? How might you approach social and political concerns here (political meaning the politics of institutions in general, not necessarily the government)?


Note: This example is BASED ON A TRUE STORY and a real conversation in a panel of experts! All characters, fictional and otherwise, have been modified to protect the innocent.

Help Validate the QSDR & Win a $50 Quality Press Gift Certificate!

If you have at least 5 years broad experience in quality, please help us validate the “Quality Systems Development Roadmap” originally published in Quality Progress in 2008 ( This is part of an expert systems project developed by Doug Jin, a student at James Madison University, under the guidance of Nicole Radziwill, JMU faculty member and ASQ member leader.

The 5-page, 13-question survey will be available until January 15, 2011 or 1500 responses are received, whatever comes first, so contribute now at!

Eliminating Waste using Zombie War Analysis

If quality and continuous improvement are important to you, you should have a fundamental understanding of zombies and the role they play in quality management. Furthermore, understanding zombies might help you understand yourself better too. In fact, performing a zombie war analysis (on either yourself or your organization) could be the next great lean tool for identifying and eliminating waste from processes.

Huh??!?! Zombies… are you sure? Yeah, I’m sure. And no, I didn’t know much about zombies either until yesterday, when I read My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead in the New York Times by Chuck Klosterman. (The savvy zombie thumbnail at the left by AMC is from his article.) In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a zombie movie before. That might change, though, now that I see the zombie concept has a direct bearing on understanding modern work life.

Here’s why: battling the endless barrage of emails, texts, requests for your time, and sorting through the steady stream of social media chatter is like a zombie apocalypse. They just keep coming and coming, and you just keep fighting and trying to let it all not overtake you and drive you nuts. And the whole thing might never end:

Every zombie war is a war of attrition. It’s always a numbers game. And it’s more repetitive than complex. In other words, zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, or following Twitter gossip out of obligation, or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche. The principle downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principle downside to life is that you will be never be finished with whatever it is you do…

This is our collective fear projection: that we will be consumed. Zombies are like the Internet and the media and every conversation we don’t want to have. All of it comes at us endlessly (and thoughtlessly), and — if we surrender — we will be overtaken and absorbed. Yet this war is manageable, if not necessarily winnable. As long we keep deleting whatever’s directly in front of us, we survive. We live to eliminate the zombies of tomorrow. We are able to remain human, at least for the time being. Our enemy is relentless and colossal, but also uncreative and stupid.

Battling zombies is like battling anything … or everything.

The only way to WIN the war is to reduce the number of zombies that you have to deal with. So, my appeal to quality managers everywhere: Ask your people what processes feel like zombie wars, and brainstorm ways to reduce the number of zombies so you don’t have to shoot so much. By tapping into the highly sensitive emotional wisdom of everyone who has to work with or deal with a process, you can call out the zombies and start eliminating them.

My appeal to PEOPLE everywhere: ask yourself what aspects of your life feel like a zombie war, and brainstorm ways to reduce the number of zombies. You’ll eliminate waste from the processes that the zombies are appearing in, while saving on ammunition, reducing stress, and possibly even increasing the joy in your life.

The simple act of thinking about the “things you’ve got to deal with” in terms of which ones are zombies (and which ones are not) might be just the innovative boost you need to identify and eliminate critical packets of waste floating around your organization. Or your life.

Expectations (and How to Violate Them)

I’ve been thinking a lot the past few months about expectations. One of the definitions of expectations on is “the degree of probability that something will occur.” In particular, I’ve been comparatively examining three different variations on the concept of expectations:

  • Consciously setting expectations
  • Consciously deciding on a state of no expectations
  • Developing shared expectations (a process)

You can set expectations with yourself, or with another person (or another group of people). Setting expectations is the equivalent of saying “here’s the way I want it to be” or “here’s the way it’s GOING to be.” Managers often aim to set expectations with their employees regarding concepts of acceptable (and excellent) performance. Developing shared expectations, however, is a process that must be done collaboratively. It is best accomplished when you enter into the process with no expectations or a knowledge that your expectations can (and SHOULD) change in response to your interactions with the people you’ll share those expectations.

Sometimes, expectations are implicit or assumed, and this is where you can get into a lot of trouble! Miscommunications and bad feelings can abound when expectations are violated. I’d like to give an example where I unknowingly violated someone’s expectations, and probably left him with tons of bad feelings. I didn’t mean to, but I think his expectations were unreasonable, and apparently he doesn’t. This gap in expectations indicates that we don’t share a core value or two, and subsequently suggests that we might even have difficulty sustaining even the most casual of relationships. I don’t feel bad about the interchange; it just says to me “this is a person you’re just not going to be able to relate to.”

The context: this person is an old Facebook friend of mine. I’ve known him for almost 15 years, but haven’t seen him in almost 10 – although I have talked to him on the phone a few times in the meantime. I thought we were relatively good and comfortable friends, but he de-friended me about a year ago. I didn’t think anything of it; some people choose to have only a small circle of Facebook friends or family, and I wouldn’t be in the small circle. When I called him on his birthday and he didn’t answer, I also didn’t think anything of it. But then, a couple weeks ago, I decided to re-friend him! Asked how he was doing, let him know I had called on his birthday… asked what was up. He sent me a short direct message that I didn’t have the time to properly respond to, so I was waiting for a time I could write a longer message.

About 5 days later I get this direct message:

I do not see the point of being on Facebook with you. When you first requested being a FB friend about a year or so ago, I readily honored the request, but then noticed that you responded to only one of my many messages to you. So I bailed out. What was the point, I asked myself.

Now you have initiated another friend request, I agreed, but then we are back to your not responding to my messages, whereas you are in dialog with others.

So, I am bailing out again.

“One of his many messages to me,” by the way, was maybe 2 or 3 public posts. His expectations, I guess, were that I would respond to each and every post to my wall, or follow-up to comments, or direct message. I don’t respond to all wall posts or comments. I do respond to all direct messages, but sometimes it takes me a while (up to a couple months, in the worst cases). I immediately recognized that this was an EXPECTATION GAP problem, and felt the bad energy and bad feelings, and realized that I didn’t want or need this discordant energy in my life. I decided to cut the ties as follows:

Wow, I didn’t know there was a protocol to follow! Since I’m certainly not going to be able to live up to such expectations, I honor your de-friending, and wish you the best from here on out.


It only took about 15 minutes to get a response (and yes, this is ALL it said… pretty terse, huh):

Expecting someone to respond to a sent message is hardly an unreasonable expectation. That is a protocol that is ages old.

Clearly, the issue is that he had some timeline on his expectations, e.g. if you don’t respond to someone’s post or message in a day or two, you are not responding at all. Second, by stating “that is a protocol that is ages old” it communicates to me that HE feels everyone on earth shares this expectation and always has. Not true; that is not my expectation, and I know of many people who feel the same way as I do. For example, I have another VERY good Facebook friend who I only talk to every 6 months or a year. A couple months ago, we arranged for me to come visit him in December, but I didn’t get back to him until just last week. Turns out his plans have changed, and we’ll have to reschedule our meetup. Did I have a problem with this? Not at all – we’ll be flexible. Did he have a problem with my slow response? Not at all – we’re good friends, and that’s the bottom line. No friendship lost, no feelings hurt – we are on the same page and probably always will be.

And it’s all thanks to having a shared, flexible expectation on how and when we communicate. Regarding the FB-defriender? Glad to not have you in my life anymore – what an energy drain you could have become. (But I really did mean it when I wished him the best.)

Shared expectations = good friendships, good relationships, good business interactions. Get there expeditiously, and everyone will be happier sooner.