What is Quality Consciousness?

For the past few months, I’ve been working on an article to describe and define quality consciousness. Someone recently told me that there have been a lot of people asking about this concept lately (which I find really cool because as far as I know, I’m the only one actively studying it under this banner), and that I should blog about what quality consciousness is ahead of the publication. (That said, if you’re also researching quality consciousness, let me know in the comments section below! Let’s play with this idea together.)

So here’s a synopsis of the story of quality consciousness:

  • The existential question that motivated this line of inquiry: If ISO 8402:1994 says that quality is the “totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs,” then what if that entity is YOU? What are the totality of characteristics of YOU that bear upon YOUR ABILITY to satisfy the stated and implied needs of your stakeholders?
  • The term “quality consciousness” was first used, from what I can find, in a 1947 keynote by C.R. Sheaffer to the first convention of the American Society for Quality Control (ASQC), the predecessor to ASQ. To answer the question “what does top management expect from quality control [people and organizations]” he notes that a change in quality consciousness is expected. Attitudes must shift from an acceptance of what’s good enough to the constant pursuit of making things better. People must be able to take pride in their high-quality work. (from Borawski, 2006)
  • Consciousness, according to the Random House dictionary, is 1) awareness of one’s own thoughts feelings, and surroundings, 2) the full activity and engagement of the senses, and 3) the thoughts and feelings of individuals and groups.
  • Based on this definition, I believe that quality consciousness can be summed up by the “3 A’s” – Awareness, Alignment, and Attention. Quality consciousness implies awareness of yourself and the environment around you (including what constitutes quality and high performance for people, processes and products – most importantly, YOU). It also suggests that you must achieve alignment of your consciousness with the consciousness of the organization, which will aid in full activity and engagement of the senses. Your attention must be selectively focused onto what you can accomplish in the present moment according to that alignment (which implies that you are able to effectively filter the rapid and voluminous streams of information coming at you).
  • From reviewing the literature, I find that there are four elements that contribute to developing awareness, finding alignment, and focusing attention. These are Action, Reflection, Interaction, and Education. I’ll go into more detail in the article on how these are all related.
  • I think that quality consciousness is exactly what Deming was after… and that it’s the moral of the story of his 14 points. But whereas the unit of analysis for his 14 points was the organizational level, we need to internalize those points within ourselves. What if Deming’s 14 points were geared towards YOU developing your quality consciousness… what do you think he would have said differently?
  • The absence of focus on developing a quality consciousness is, I believe, the distinguishing factor between companies that have implemented the Toyota Production System successfully (ie. Toyota) and companies that have implemented the Toyota Production System with limited results (e.g. pretty much everyone else).
  • A personal path for developing quality consciousness might include asking yourself the following questions: What do YOU need to expand your awareness? To enhance your mood and affect so that you’re aware of the vast landscape of innovative potentials available to you (e.g. http://atomic-temporary-5081318.wpcomstaging.com/2011/09/29/why-positive-psychology-is-essential-for-quality/)? What do YOU need to align yourself with your organization? What do YOU need to be able to focus your attention on the most productive thing you can do at any given moment – resulting in effortless action, optimal flow and productivity, and positive affect that will cycle back to expanding your awareness even more?

Borawski, P. (2006). The state of quality: 1947 and 2006. Journal for Quality and Participation, Winter 2006, p 19-24.


  • Love it, Eric 🙂

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  • About 4 months ago I was reassigned from Engineering Management and Program Management to be our companies Quality Manager. This REALLY resonates with me. With an engineering background, the concepts of “design in quality”, quality measurements, problem solving etc. are all ingrained, albeit with different terminology than the Quality World’s TLA’s (and more letters sometimes). So as I am reading many quality articles etc. to learn techniques, lingo etc. this REALLY hits home with respect to my attempt to get the company and people to focus on there day to day activities that all impact quality in some way. More of a vision/mission and something that can be implemented.

    We have already seen improvements (yes, some is actually measurable, some perceived) in quality and get feedback that they (key managers) see changes BUT all I believe the few of us in our department are doing is getting out to all areas of the company and raising awareness (consciousness?)!


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  • Interesting post Nicole, and I believe it is conceptually linked to the journey of enlightenment I have been on for some time. Although I don’t call it “Quality Consciousness”, it is an apt title to describe a focused TQM (to use an old acronym) culture through individual discovery. I have over 28 years in quality management and organizational excellence; started in quality control as it was changing over to quality assurance, and was blessed to discover quality management as a way to permeate entire organizations as a philosophy rather than a support (quality) department.

    At the start of the 21st century, I began to move freely among the theories and practices of other related disciplines, thereby allowing me to break from my rigid “quality” frame of mind. In fact, throwing the word quality out of quality management system is a practice I still use to this day when guiding organizations through sustainable excellence and best practice. It serves to relieve the poor quality department of 100% responsibility for success and invites the system to be inclusive to every individual that counts, internal AND external to the organization. This starts to ingrain the notion that we are all individually (and thereby collectively) responsible for the state of our workplace.

    I have been practicing “Appreciative Inquiry” for the past decade as a way to change the game on problem solving. The notion is to focus on the positive core of an organization and build on that, rather than pick apart all of the things that are wrong with it. Not only does it change the mind-set of the participants, it serves to change the larger environment around them. “Appreciative Inquiry” is based on several different social principles, one of which is named the “Constructionist Principle”. It notes that no organization is set in stone, regardless of the obvious structure it projects; they are the sum total of the beliefs, values and actions of all its staff and stakeholders, past and present. I have combined Appreciative Inquiry with different traditional methodologies to create transformational and innovative change, including its use with Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) http://human.ca/training-workshops/power-bpr.html.

    But it wasn’t until I started looking further into the discoveries and discussions being made regarding the new quantum sciences that I started to see a link between what I was doing and the (some not so new) scientific theories abounding. This includes the concept that empty space is no longer considered empty, but a vast field of energy, linked to every other point in the universe simultaneously (theory of entanglement). Or the unreal thought that this energy is still undefined at the particle level, waiting for an observer to decide what it will be. Authors are abound with the potential applications in our daily life, from faith healing to personal manifestation to collective manifestation that may change the culture of an organization.

    Which brings me back to the “Constructionist Principle”, the Positive Core and the innovative transformation that I have seen in people and organizational culture when we focus on positive strengths and the creation of passion in the workplace. Margaret Wheatley, author of the best-selling business book called “Leadership and the New Science”, commented on a colleagues quote, “start anywhere and go everywhere”, when implementing transformational culture change in organizations. It was in reference to individual culture change and astounding in its alteration to current thought that change must be driven by senior management.

    My studies in the new quantum sciences, Which I call “The People’s Science”, intend to go further into how they can be used to effect improvement in our workplace. It may very well be that when we focus in any direction, individually or collectively, we manifest opportunities that are created because of our focus, and when we prepare ourselves to receive those opportunities, we have the ability to achieve transformational success. Now we can see the advantage of focusing on strength based language.

    The stories above may be dissimilar; the descriptions down a different side road, but I see a conceptual connection with Quality Consciousness, sort of like being in the middle of a Venn Diagram, and I find it very exciting.

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  • Let me help clear something. , I have practiced and taught quality and quality management to tens of thousands in almost every industry for the last 30 years. If you want to make a quality product or quality process you need first good design, good suppliers good systems good training good equipment and setting high but measurable goals. You cant get away from statistics and discipline or fast reaction,

    if you want to talk about Quality Quotient or Quality Consciousness i.e. you build in quality into people first before products and services then you have to start them young, So we have developed and implemented since 1997 movements such as the students quality circles that are very effective in achieving this

    Its nothing new I am sorry to disappoint you,

    • Hi Andre, you are correct that in essence, the idea is nothing new – in fact, the pursuit of personal excellence is the first stage of the “Quality Journey” as described by the ASQ Quality Body of Knowledge (QBOK). However, the emphasis in the literature (and training content, as well) has been on the awareness aspect – as you state, “good design, good suppliers, good systems, good training, good equipment, and setting high but measurable goals.”

      But even your description overlooks alignment and attention – if you are not emotionally aligned with what you or your organization are in place to deliver, or if you are not focusing your attention (conscious and subconscious) appropriately, you will not be able to bring your “personal excellence” to the task or project. All too often we focus on control aspects such as time management, while ignoring that there is a very real emotional variability that also significantly influences an individual’s ability to contribute.

      So, you have not disappointed me at all – in contrast, your response illustrates very nicely how the “awareness” aspect of quality consciousness has dominated, and continues to dominate, how we view the role of the individual in quality and process improvement.

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