Category Archives: Philosophy of Science & Technology

Change vs. Transformation: What’s the Difference?

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

Transformation involves changing your frame of reference. Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

Last week, on the Lean Six Sigma Worldwide discussion group, Gaurav Navula (CEO of Perky Pat India) asked us to reflect on the difference between change and transformation. Change management was a major thrust in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, but you don’t hear as much about it anymore. Today, the tools of change management (making the business case, aligning strategy with tactics, engaging stakeholders, instituting goal-directed training and education programs, etc.) have faded into the everyday landscape of management. Leaders seem to be focused more on “surviving and thriving” in the midst of rapid and disruptive innovation, which enhances the importance of transformation.

But what’s the difference? Just a couple months ago, Ron Ashkenas (on the Harvard Business Review blog) asserted that we don’t know the difference: “We really do know how to execute discrete changes. What we know much less about is how to engineer a transformation.”

But I think we do know how to engineer a transformation, and we can use this recipe. I’ll explain more towards the end of this post, but it acknowledges the relationship between larger-scale changes and transformation: that change is required for transformation, and all transformation involves change, but not all change is transformational. This is based on the idea that all observable changes come with “shifts in state” – from the quality management perspective, you can think of these as observed changes in system performance (cost savings, more efficient or effective use of time, increasing throughput, enhancing return on investment).


What this says is: transformation is what you get when you adjust the frame of reference that you observe the world with, and then add to that new perspective the product of all the shifts in state that have occurred as a result of incremental changes. I say “when you adjust the reference frame,” but that’s somewhat misleading. Usually there is some sort of transformational experience… an “a-ha” moment or event… where the scales fall from your eyes and you see the world in a completely different way. The shift in reference frame always involves relationships: either your relationship to other people or other groups, or your relationship to yourself and how you see yourself, or maybe both. 

“My sense is that there’s an underlying semantic problem, stemming from confusion between what constitutes “change” versus “transformation.” Many managers don’t realize that the two are not the same. And while we’ve actually come a long way in learning how to manage change, we continue to struggle with transformation.” — Ron Ashkenas, HBR blog

Here are some of the qualitative descriptions that have been offered to further articulate the differences between change and transformation. Notice that they do not conflict with the expression for transformation above.


  • Finite initiatives which may or may not be cross-cutting (HBR)
  • Desire to improve the past directs what we do (Mohanty)
  • Makes the system better (Mohanty)
  • Any time an organization asks its people or systems to stop, start, or execute in a new way a process, behavior or location of performanc (Holtz)
  • Making setups in different format within the given system to achieve improvements in performance (Bob Matthew)
  • Incremental (Anand)


  • A portfolio of open-ended initiatives which are necessarily cross-cutting (HBR)
  • The future directs your actions and only the limits of imagination and courage constrain possibilities (Mohanty)
  • Makes a better system (Mohanty)
  • The base of transformational is the word “formation” – the stuff things are made of or the structure – that needs to change for the change to be transformational. (du Plessis)
  • Encompasses bigger, more radical shifts (Holtz)
  • Makes a total change of system, procedure and a total mindset to get a better transparency and communication within the process owners including the customers. (Bob Matthew)
  • Should be informed by strategy (Kshirsagar)
  • Transformation is not a preference; it’s a necessity as a result of resistance to change. (Aydin)
  • Major; result of many changes (Anand)

Think about the last time you experienced a transformative change, perhaps even in your personal life. For example, think of a time when you were able to truly and completely forgive someone for some way they had wronged you. There were certainly a collection of changes in state that occurred — prior to, during, and after the forgiveness experience. But as a result, didn’t you also come to see the world in a completely different way? Your frame of reference with respect to that person… and probably, other people you have relationships with… also shifted.

Quality Has Always Been Global

In his February post, ASQ CEO Bill Troy asks “Why Should Quality ‘Go Global’?” ASQ has, over the past several years, expanded its reach as a member organization… “going global” to expand awareness of quality tools and techniques. This is being done to more deeply realize ASQ’s mission to “increase the use and impact of quality in response to the diverse needs of the world”.

But this approach forgets that quality can’t go global… it already is global! The notion (and pursuit) of quality is evident in the history of water quality and sanitation dating back to Ancient Greece and Rome, the creation (over centuries) of the measuring instruments and standards that have made way for modern methods of industrial production, cave paintings discovered in Egypt that show quality assurance inspectors presiding over work, and other stories. Deming’s groundbreaking work took place in Japan, in the midst of a vastly different culture than Deming’s own. In 1990, Quality Progress ran a series of articles called “China’s Ancient History of Managing for Quality” that provides a very rich examination of quality practices in that region.

Sure, Frederick Winslow Taylor was an American manufacturer, meaning that the principles of scientific management were first tested and implemented here… but the chemist, Le Chatelier, very quickly translated Taylor’s work to French and introduced the principles to manufacturing plans during World War I. At the same time, Henri Fayol was conceptualizing similar techniques for assessing and managing quality in that country. The journal Quality Engineering ran a piece in 1999 that described the history of quality management in France in the 20th century, along with practices and trends from several other European countries.

Quality systems provide mechanisms for us to achieve and accomplish whatever it is that we value. Every culture has a long and vibrant history of using tools, techniques, and standards to make these things happen. Perhaps instead of aiming to simply push the message of quality beyond the United States, ASQ could also seek the message of quality that artisans, engineers, and citizens in vastly different environments and cultures have developed over the past several centuries to offer quality professionals everywhere.

Who Has Inspired You About Quality?

eisensteinIn his January post, ASQ CEO Bill Troy asks, “Have you met someone whose teachings on quality influenced you or inspired you? What were these lessons?” Although he acknowledges the “quality gurus” he encouraged us to think about people from beyond the domain of the quality profession. When I think about quality, I always start with my favorite definition to provide an anchor. According to this definition, quality is:

“The totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” — ISO 8402 (deprecated)

Even though they do not specifically teach about quality, I’d like to share two of my sources of inspiration: philosopher and activist Charles Eisenstein, and psychologist Barbara Fredrickson.

In Sacred Economics and The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, Charles Eisenstein encourages us to look beyond the subtle assumptions and limitations imposed upon us by being embedded in a market economy. What is quality in the absence of a commercial environment to exchange products and services?? How can we more effectively relate to ourselves and to one another, so that we can better satisfy our stated and implied needs? Eisenstein’s work inspires me because it encourages me to reflect on the unspoken assumptions of the quality profession, and how those assumptions might be holding us back from evolving our skill sets to meet the changing needs of society. (Sacred Economics is also available in print from Amazon.)

In Positivity, Barbara Fredrickson provides a simple, data-driven path (the “positivity ratio”) for improving our psychological health; in Love 2.0, she helps uncover ways for us to create substantive, authentic connections with one another. Her work can help us cultivate greater quality consciousness – because we are best able to satisfy others’ stated and implied needs when 1) we understand them, and 2) we are mentally and emotionally equipped to help deliver them! Although aspects of the positivity ratio have been criticized by researchers studying dynamical systems, I still find the concept (and measurement tool) very useful for raising the awareness of individuals and teams.

Postscript: Bill’s post made me think about another related question: “Who ARE the quality gurus?” I mean, everyone in the quality profession can call on Deming, Juran, or Crosby, but I’d toss luminaries like Csikszentmihalyi and Prahalad (plus others) in the mix as well. I searched online and found a nice “List of Gurus” that someone put together that includes my extra picks!

But!! There’s a problem with it.

WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? The one woman in this list is someone I’ve never heard of, which is odd, since I’ve read papers by (or about!) all of the other people referenced in the list. Which brings me back to my original point: WHERE ARE THE WOMEN QUALITY GURUS? It’s time to start celebrating their emerging legacy. If you are a woman who has made significant contributions to our understanding and/or practice of quality and improvement, PLEASE CONTACT ME. I’d like to write an article soon.

Quality of Art & Design in the Digital Age

doug-mirror(Image credit: Doug Buckley of

In a December article in Wired, John Maeda talks about how the art community’s sensibilities were recently challenged by a decision made by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to include videogames in a new category of art there. Although the examples were acquired on the basis that they demonstrate good interaction design, some art critics claim that videogames are not art – that they do not, as per Jonathon Jones, represent an “act of personal imagination.”

Whereas design is focused on solutions, art (according to Maeda) is focused more on creating questions – “the deep probing of purpose and meaning that sometimes takes us backward and sideways to reveal which way ‘forward’ actually is.So should artifacts like video games be accepted into an art collection? The answer, according to Maeda, comes down to how the institution defines quality:

When I was invited to a MoMA Board meeting a couple of years ago to field questions about the future of art with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, we were asked about how MoMA should make acquisitions in the digital age. Schmidt answered, Graduate-style, with just one word: “quality.”

And that answer has stuck with me even today, because he was absolutely right – quality trumps all, whatever the medium and tools are: paints or pixels, canvas or console.

The problem is that what “quality” represents in the digital age hasn’t been identified much further than heuristic-metrics like company IPOs and the market share of well-designed technology products. It’s even more difficult to describe quality when it comes to something as non-quantitative – and almost entirely qualitative – as art and design.

Last month, I shared what I’ve discovered over the past 7 years, as I’ve aimed to answer the question What is Quality? By applying the ISO 9000/Mitra perspective that I described, the MoMA dilemma (and others like it) may be easier to resolve. My approach centers around the ISO 9000 definition that quality is the “totality of characteristics of an entity that bears upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.”

These stated and implied needs translate into quality attributes.

For art, the object of art is the entity. If that art is functional or interactive, then there are stated needs that relate to its ability to function within a given context or towards a given purpose. These may relate to quality attributes like conformance, reliability, or durability. (If the piece is not functional or interactive, then there are quite possibly no stated needs to meet). However, there will always be implied needs which relate to the meaning and purpose of the art; does the object help achieve the goals of art in general, or of the individual interacting with or observing the art?

Similarly, since art is in many ways a personal experience, does the object help the individual by inspiring, connecting, engaging, encouraging, illuminating, clarifying, catalyzing, transforming, encouraging, or revealing aspects of the self and/or the environment? Does the object stimulate an emotional experience? (Any of these aspects might indicate that the object of art is meeting quality attributes that are related to implied needs.)

A subset of Mitra’s model is relevant to examining the quality of art and design. Note that to assess the quality of an example of art, such as a videogame, we might focus more on the objective quality and the consequences of quality, because the antecedents will be more useful if we are attempting to improve quality over time:

Antecedents of Quality (conditions that must be in place to quality to be achieved): contextual factors (e.g. whether the environment/culture – or enough people within it – are ready to recognize the piece as art), quality improvement process (what mechanisms are in place to continually improve the ability of the artist/team to deliver high quality work, e.g. practice or evaluating other artwork), and capabilities (whether the artist has the skill to create and share the art).

Objective/Product Quality: This asks “how well does the entity meet the stated and implied needs?” Does it meet all of them, or just some of them, and to what degree or extent?

Consequences of Quality: This is the combined effect of the quality perception process (whether the piece meets each individual’s standards for value) and the broader impacts that the piece has on individuals and/or society in general. Quality perception is, necessarily, an individual process – whereas broader impacts involves factors such as how many people did this piece impact, and to what extent.

So, are videogames art? First, we have to check to make sure they meet their stated needs – and since they were produced and successfully distributed by companies to people who played and enjoyed those games, we can assume that the stated needs were met. So, what are the implied needs of videogames as art? This depends, like many things, on how you select and define those stated needs. Ultimately, you want to take into account the emotional and transformative impact of the piece on one person, and then across individual and demographic designations to see the impact of the piece within and between social groups.

IMHO, I was personally inspired to learn more about computer programming before I turned 10 by playing lots and lots of Pac-Man and Space Invaders. I was an empowered fighter in a world of power pellets, ghosts, strawberries, and bananas, and so were lots of my friends. We connected with one another, and with the era in history that is the 1980’s, as we do today whenever someone reflects on those games or the arcades in which they were played. Because the games inspired in me an emotional experience, that today is tinged with nostalgia, I’d say that videogames are just as much art as the beautiful cars of the 1950’s that catalyzed the same feelings in people of that generation.

Kudos to MoMA for casting their net wider.

What do you all think? How can we effectively assess the quality of art and design?

Quality Consciousness: Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out!

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

In a previous article, I described the notion of quality consciousness that I’m currently preparing an article about.

To achieve quality consciousness, we ask the very important question (cf. ISO 9000 para 3.1.5, formerly ISO 8402) “What are the totality of characteristics of YOU that bear upon YOUR ABILITY to satisfy the stated and implied needs of your stakeholders?”

The reason we WANT quality consciousness is because we know that the more in tune with the essence of quality that we are, within ourselves, the better we will attune to the needs of our customers and clients – to be able to help them achieve their goals for making things better, more streamlined, and more cost effective.

I summarized quality consciousness as 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).

It struck me today how similar this whole notion is to Timothy Leary’s appeal to the counterculture of the late 1960’s, to achieve breakthrough innovation in individual and collective perception of the world to “Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out”! The message, according to the summary on Wikipedia, was intended to “urge people to embrace cultural changes… detaching themselves from the existing conventions and hierarchies in society.”

So if you want to improve a product, a process, or yourself, embrace the breakthrough innovation that is promised by quality consciousness!

  • TURN ON = Become aware of quality standards and the true meaning of excellence, for you and for the domain you live and work in.
  • TUNE IN = Align yourself personally and professionally with your goals, and those of your organization! (Or, find some place you CAN tune in!)
  • DROP OUT! Focus your attention on the essentials… don’t be distracted by the down economy, by social upheaval, or the perils of ever-increasing competition.

Deliver value… to yourself and those around you! Make it a personal imperative and watch the avalanche of breakthrough innovations begin to cascade around you and your inspirational attitude.

No Settling

I saw these sentences posted on the web while I was aimlessly surfing the other day. I’ve been repeating them over and over ever since; turns out I have completely missed one of the most important aspects of authenticity as a dimension of quality in my thinking over the past several months.

The key to your success is authenticity. No mask, no pretense, no settling. Know what you want, and articulate those desires directly and clearly.

No mask is a directive I’m pretty good at. I don’t try to be or act anything other than who I am (unless I’m in a bad mood; then, I’m definitely the bad mood someone-else-of-me, which in itself is still pretty authentic). No pretense is also one I think I’ve got well in hand. Pretense means you feign certain behaviors or scenarios (e.g. “sorry, I’ve got a meeting now, must run” – when in fact you have no meeting at all). I only employ false pretenses in situations where behaving authentically would be genuinely inappropriate (e.g. “you know, I’m really bored by what you have to say, and there’s no value for me to sit here listening to you – must run”). I think pretenses are always false. (You could feign truth, but I only see that being useful if, for example, a person has self-esteem issues that they’re trying to overcome. Not sure.)

No settling is the directive that inspired me. If you plan to be authentic, don’t settle for anything less than what you believe, and deserve, and can offer. Behaving authentically in relationships means standing up for equitable, kind treatment, and not allowing yourself to be tossed around by the emotional whims of others. (Not settling here also implies that if you can’t have an authentic relationship with someone else, consider not having one at all!) Behaving authentically in business thus requires not settling for any less than your own personal best, creating a climate that will bring out the best in others, and not tolerating anything less than the steady pursuit of excellence.

No settling!

Pain Based Change Management

Andrew Grove’s political commentary today in the Washington Post (“Mr. President, Time to Rein in the Chaos”) was interesting to me not because of the opinions presented, but because of his unorthodox suggestion: successful change management can emerge when leaders deliberately allow pain, then rescue the masses once the pain has become too unbearable:

I have found that to succeed, an organization must travel through two phases: first, a period of chaotic experimentation in which intense discussion is allowed, even encouraged, by those in charge. In time, when the chaos becomes unbearable, the leadership reins in chaos with a firm hand. The first phase serves to expose the needs and options, the potential and pitfalls. The organization and its leaders learn a lot going through this phase. But frustration also builds, and eventually the cry is heard: Make a decision — any decision — but make it now. The time comes for the leadership to end the chaos and commit to a path.

We have gone through months of chaos experimenting with ways to introduce stability in our financial system. The goals were to allow the financial institutions to do their jobs and to develop confidence in them. I believe by now, the people are eager for the administration to rein in chaos. But this is not happening.

Would you, as a manager, take this kind of approach if you knew it would effect the change you wanted?

The ethical implications of this strategy are remarkable to me. First, put yourself in the frame of mind where you’re thinking about organizational change management – adopting a new software package, or reorganizing the hierarchy. Change like this is tough, and often results in mental and emotional pain as people adjust to the new state of the workplace – not physical pain, but definitely pain in the sense of its official definition. But is it appropriate to allow this pain in order to achieve benefits – both for those who have “suffered” and the organization as a whole?

I have no answers to offer – but think that this dilemma might be illuminated further by understanding the ethical standards for pain management and research that have already been explored by the medical community.

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