Getting Deep With Value Creation

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

In his November post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks “What new fields or disciplines could most reap the benefits of quality tools and techniques?”

He notes that although the tradition of quality assurance, control, and improvement emerged from manufacturing, the techniques are now widely acknowledged and applied in many fields such as healthcare, education, and service. So what’s next?

One of the things I like to do when I’m trying to be a futurist is to go back to first principles. Explore the basis for why we do what we do… what makes us tick… why we like improving quality and making processes more effective, more efficient. And in doing so, while reflecting on Paul’s question, I think what’s next is…

Getting Deep with Value Creation.

As quality professionals we spend most of our time and energy figuring out how to create value. Either we’re improving the systems we work with to tweak out additional value, or we’re working with customers and stakeholders to figure out how to provide them with more value, or we’re focusing on innovation – figuring out how to create value for the future – reliably, consistently, and according to new and unexpected business models.

To me, this starts with me. How can I improve myself so that I’m a kickass vessel for the delivery of value? How can I use quality principles and quality tools to find – and align myself – with what I’m supposed to be doing at any given time? How can I become most productive in terms of the deep, meaningful value I add to those around me?

I know that others feel the same way. Marc Kelemen, a member of the ASQ Board of Directors, is leading a charge to develop a Body of Knowledge for Social Responsibility. He recognizes that the personal element is crucial if we’re trying to become socially responsible as teams, and organizations, and communities. So we’ll be working on this over the next few months… figuring out how to get deep with the notion of value creation, and how we can do it within ourselves so that we are better positioned to help others do it too.

Thrivability: A Sneaky Awesome Little Book About Innovation

thrivabilityI just got done reading Jean Russell’s new book, Thrivability, from Triarchy Press. In my opinion, this is perhaps the most compelling book about innovation that’s been written in the past few years – and it’s not even expressly about innovation. But it can help you think about all the assumptions you make about society and the environment in which you’re embedded – assumptions that, when relaxed, can open up new ways of thinking that will help you more effectively innovate.

Here’s the review that I’ll be publishing in the January 2014 issue of the Quality Management Journal. In the meantime, I encourage you to read Jean’s book — and please share your comments below! I want to know what you think about it.

               “Thrivability,” or the “ability to thrive,” suggests strength, grace, health, growth, and sustainable value creation – all in one word. In this book, Jean Russell articulates over 20 years of knowledge and insights she’s gleaned from delving into this one concept from the perspective of multiple disciplines. The end result is a book that is unique, richly textured, and achieves its stated goal: “to equip you with tools to see and act in ways that enrich your life, your community, your business, and our world.” As a result, this book contributes indirectly (yet profoundly) to the expanding body of knowledge on innovation.

               The book is structured in three Parts: Perceiving, Understanding, and Doing.  The first chapters encourage the reader to critically examine his or her external environment, the assumptions that are inherent to the economic and political systems within which we are embedded, and the individual stories that we use to construct our expectations about ourselves, our capabilities, and others around us. It does this by emphasizing the importance of storytelling and narrative – to imagine ourselves in the context of a story that inspires us about our world, rather than fills us with fear. To be successful at this, we must first learn how to look at our world and the people around us with compassion and acceptance. This, according to the author, will help us generate new perspectives on existing situations, and open us to new possibilities for improvement.

               Part II, on Understanding, explores how we can shift our beliefs to help create more positive, productive, connected environments and organizations. A large part of this section reflects on the psychological influences of social media and how this is changing the ways we identify opportunities and even the definition of “success” itself. For example, in education, grades are losing their significance as society recognizes that complex creations are more effective measures of accomplishment than passing tests. Part III, on Doing, focuses on tools and techniques to enliven creativity, enhance trust, and break through limiting beliefs and blocking situations.

               This book has essential insights for both academics and practitioners in quality-related fields. Most significantly, Russell’s work can help us envision the new world in which we might soon find ourselves, where the search for meaning and compassion for others (and our environment) take precedence over profit and capturing or creating new markets.

Expressing Your Needs

This is me. I have NEEDS! I just need to get better at expressing them.

This is me. I have NEEDS! I just need to get better at expressing them.

Achieving quality (re: ISO 9000 para 3.1.5) is all about meeting stated and implied needs.

But our society has conditioned us not to freely express our needs to friends, family, and others; after all, if we need something, the marketing should have worked already, and we should know where we can go to willingly exchange currency for the means to satisfy that need. And Google is always happy to help us find new places to buy things.

But in a gift economy, open expression of needs is critical. When I was at Burning Man, it became habit to express my needs at any given time. After all, if I needed something, I relied on my network to pass the message along – and ultimately connect me with the people who could help me out with the resources that I needed. (I found a great pair of knee socks this way. I gave away a beautiful black jingly bra, several rolls of toilet paper, several gallons of water, and a giant canister of naphtha gas this way.)

Steve Pavlina points out that there is probably a vast audience of potential partners and co-creators who, at any time, are ready and willing (and happy!) to meet your needs. It’s just that you haven’t broadcast those needs and so the people who would be happy to help you meet them are still in the dark. No one knows you have those needs, so no one can say hey! I’ve got gifts that will help you meet those needs.

How often do you have genuine needs in your workplace, or your life – and it’s very likely that others could help you meet those needs - but you just have NO clue how to find people that can help out? Or maybe you just don’t know how to start the conversations? Or maybe you’d like to ask, but you get into self-defeating spirals where the voice on the inside of your head is telling you they probably don’t have the time… you don’t want to be an inconvenience… you don’t want anyone to feel taken advantage of… you don’t want to impose on anyone.

It feels very awkward to express that you would really like help or support from someone else. It feels weak, maybe. But that default feeling of weakness or not-enough-ness is NOT REAL. It’s just what we’re conditioned to believe is true because of the effect marketing — and the consumer-driven economy — has had on us since birth.

I have needs too, and I don’t know how to find people that will help me meet my needs. I am VERY happy to help them meet THEIR needs. So the first step is for me to start getting comfortable with expressing my needs – and being open to the people who will show up to help meet them. For starters, here are some of my needs:

  • I need someone to cut my hair across the back every month or two – straight across! – which I don’t think merits the $30 fee most salons charge. It takes 5 minutes from anyone who has a steady hand and a pair of scissors. (I can provide the scissors). Usually I get my mom to do it, but she’s several hours’ drive away. And I desperately need a cut. I would love to trade anything – or help with your statistics homework – for a straight-across cut.
  • On the same thread, I’d like to find someone who will henna the underside of my hair. My friends and I used to henna each other all the time in high school and college. Now, I have no henna friends… and a head in need of rainbow flavors about every 3 months.
  • I need non-aloof “girlfriends” (can be any gender) to share mutually beneficial great ideas, pointless and short-lived whining, and happy hours with. This is not to imply that my current suite of friends and confidants is inadequate in any way – I just want to make sure the supply of these people is large and diverse enough so that I can tap into it whenever I need to.
  • I need a photographer (preferably in consultation with “girlfriends” who can dress me up) to take headshots for blog + future journal articles. Preferably including dragons and/or some sort of flame throwing or fire breathing (which is why I can’t get the creative services department at work to do it – no dragons, no fire). Because, you know, I like things like that.
  • I need artsy Burner-type friends in Harrisonburg who want to create a “virtual commune” with me. We can share resources and moral support. If you have a venue where we can all get together and spin fire occasionally, that would not be bad either.
  • I need a regular Wednesday afternoon/evening babysitter for my 8 yr old. Must be totally trusted source (so I need to have known you for a while).
  • I need an occasional Monday afternoon/evening and random wildcard afternoon/evening babysitter for my 8 yr old.
  • I need someone in Harrisonburg to refer me to a great family physician or osteopath who will give me what I need to manage chronic sciatica – the result of a injury from surgery over 10 years ago. I’ve been to my old family doctor and several chiropractors already. No one has a solution – the doctor says I’m too young to be feeling like this (you’re right!! I AM!!) and the chiropractors swear they can fix me, but so far, they have only made it worse. As a result I live in almost constant background pain, and it interferes with my ability to think.
  • It would be great to have someone to massage my sore right foot. I have at least one person who will do it, but I feel bad asking, and he’s always working. I say “massage” – but what I really mean is “press that spot on the top of my right foot that releases the pain in my head really hard“. 
  • I need someone to help me grocery shop, cook, and eat healthy. In exchange, I’ll support your grocery-purchasing needs (after all, if you’re cooking for me, you might as well be cooking for YOU too!) I just need instructions, because I am helpless at the grocery store (the site of many panic attacks) and overwhelmed by the entire prospect of eating – which is why, when left to my own devices, I just don’t eat. There are too many possibilities. Note: Cooking partner has probably been identified – within hours of expressing this need.
  • I need someone to force me to go to Bikram Yoga Harrisonburg at least several times a week. Note: This will depend on getting adequate and reliable childcare. Maybe you need someone to force you to go to yoga too. Want to team up and make it happen???


And more importantly – how I can help YOU?

Sustaining Excellence for the Long Term

In September’s question to the ASQ Influential Voices, CEO Paul Borawski asks how an established organization can maintain a record of excellence over the long term:

Let’s say you’ve reached the “holy grail” of quality and excellence. You make a great product. Your service is top-notch. You innovate. You’ve developed a culture of quality where employees and leaders are empowered. Now, how do you sustain all this…for years, decades, centuries? Everyone can name once-excellent companies that had trouble sustaining the very things that took them to the top.

I’m not going to summarize the messages of Jim Collins’ excellent summaries of research in Built to Last or Great by Choice, even though I think there are many important insights in both books. I want to focus on a new perspective on this question that I heard from Coca-Cola’s VP of Innovation, David Butler, at last week’s Business Innovation Factory (BIF-9) Summit in Providence, Rhode Island.

Butler acknowledges that startups are inherently great at launching new ideas and bringing them to fruition, whereas organizations like Coca-Coca are unparalleled in their ability to leverage their substantial assets (resources, skills, and networks) to scale ideas and broaden their impact.

This essential interplay between starting and scaling was what Butler wanted to capture within his organization.

By supporting the energy and enthusiasm within the maker movement, Coca-Cola is now participating in Startup Weekends that bring together Coca-Cola employees with community members to collaborate and explore possibilities for rapid innovation and a quick transition to commercialization. By providing the platform for entrepreneurs to explore new ideas alongside Coca-Cola employees who know the business, Coca-Cola is essentially acting as a hands-on Venture Capitalist who hops on board as idea generation is flourishing into actionable opportunity.

By inserting themselves into a unique slot in the value chain, Coca-Cola has found a novel way to sustain excellence for the long term.

Training in the Sharing Economy


Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

Paul Borawski’s August question to the ASQ Influential Voices is personal: Are you continuously improving yourself through training?

The subtext of this question is, of course, to explore the extent to which companies are currently supporting – and encouraging – training about quality-related topics, tools, and techniques as a form of personal development. Budgets have been tight for everyone since the end of 2008, but Paul’s data shows that many organizations are still investing in quality-related training.

Participating in training programs is one way to increase your quality consciousness:

Quality can be defined as “the totality of characteristics of an ENTITY that bears on its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” (ISO 9000 para 3.1.5; formerly ISO 8402) Usually, when we’re thinking about quality systems within business organizations, our entities are products and processes and projects. We employ Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), ISO 9000 or ISO 14000, frameworks like the quality criteria from the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA), Six Sigma or lean tools for reducing variation and defects and improving processes, or any number of a wide variety of tools and techniques to ensure quality and embrace continuous improvement.

But we’re never on our own – whatever we pursue or accomplish, we are always individuals in relationship to, and in community with, one another. So in the context of the ISO 9000 definition, how do you define QUALITY if the ENTITY is YOU? The quality of any product, process, relationship, or venture you contribute to will depend upon the QUALITY OF YOU and how you relate to, and align with, the environment in which you are embedded. Improving your awareness of quality standards, your alignment with teams and organizations, and your ability to manage your attention will all increase your quality consciousness.

But training is not the only way to enhance your quality consciousness. In addition to learning things on your own, you’re always learning from the people around you, and there are undoubtedly people in your immediate environment who have useful things to share – information and talents that you might not even be aware of.

Last month, Fast Company inquired whether the “Sharing Economy” — iconized by companies like car-sharing ZipCar and not-a-taxi service Lyftwill destroy brands. But I think there’s also a renaissance approaching the training industry (and beyond it, education in general) based on these newly blossoming values.

So – can your organization buy less training and instead, share your talents more – more ofteninternally?

What untapped gifts are lurking around your company?

Quality in Unexpected Places: Elementary School

doug-feb2(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

I just read a blog post written by 4th grade teacher Lori Rice — who reflects on the tendency of her students to speed through worksheets and assignments in class, then jubilantly report “I’m Done!” 

Not all students, of course, will finish work at the same time – some will be faster, and some will be slower, and an individual’s skill and speed will even vary between assignments. There will be variation, not surprisingly. But this teacher reports that the variation in done-ness within a classroom actually poses challenges for classroom management AND learning management:

It is a feared utterance that teachers hear far too often from students.  In a classroom full of diversified learners, there are very few lessons that allow everyone to finish at the same time.

This is a problem for two reasons: 1) the students need to have something to do when they’re “done,” and 2) if the students perceive that there’s something to do after the assignment that’s more enjoyable than the assignment, they tend to rush through to get to “done” so they can go do the something else.

But Lori has found a solution for her classroom: she teaches her students about standards for quality, and also instructs them on how to examine their own work to see if they are meeting the standards — and if not, how to continually improve. (Note: this is HUGELY significant! How many times do you remember, when you were in school, having a teacher or professor tell you about a process you could use to evaluate and continually improve your own work??!! I remember once, as a senior in high school at NCSSM. That’s all.) Here’s how Lori does it:

I spend the beginning of the year with my new, eager fourth graders, explaining what quality work looks like.  We talk about, discuss, and practice self-checking for accuracy and neatness.  When you finish a worksheet or project the first thing to do is look it over and think, “Is this MY  best work?”  It takes the first nine weeks before this is done independently by the majority of the class.  Before it is independent I spend a lot of time asking, “What do you do when you finish?  Look it over and see what you can make stronger.”  Step one to the “I’m done!” declaration.

To close the loop, she also helps them explore choices for what they can work on if they really have achieved the state of done. Although she requires that they find new activities to explore that are relevant to the subject block (e.g. math-related explorations during “math time”) she is open to the students uncovering new interests and talents when they’re “done” with their assigned work.

Become an Innovator by Embracing Your Gifts

doug-road(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

You can’t be anyone you want to be.

To become your most powerful, you have to fully become WHO YOU ARE.

(Umar Haque posted a similar sentiment on the Harvard Business Review blog in 2011.)

“Don’t want to be the best in the world at what you do. Be the only one who does what you do.” — Jerry Garcia

This is not always easy. People are changing. Situations are changing. Environments are changing – constantly, and without fail. And since we have to deal with so many messages from the outside world about who and what it thinks we should be — and become – it should not be surprising during the times when it feels like a struggle. Plus, what if WHO YOU ARE challenges the mainstream notion of what’s right or good? This makes fully becoming WHO YOU ARE even more frightening. 

But the more I reflect on it, the more I think that embracing your unique gifts is the key to becoming an innovator. When you find or create a safe space in which can can take risks to uncover and unleash who you are, you creative potential blazes. But sometimes those safe spaces are hard to come by… so what are we going to do about it?