Category Archives: Sustainability

The Positivity Trap

(Image credit: Doug Buckley of http:/

Positivity (pioneered by researcher Barbara Fredrickson) can help you become more productive, more fulfilled, and more creative and innovative — by expanding your ability to see and perceive opportunities. So of course, as a quality professional, I want to get it, and be it.

A few weeks ago, I was on a road trip with one of my best friends in the world. We were talking about continuous improvement and self-improvement when he suggested that I take Fredrickson’s little quiz to see where my positivity ratio was. According to her research, a ratio greater than 3:1 indicates that your psyche is in a regime to flourish.

I have always been an optimistic and highly positive person, but I’ve also been plagued by depression, limiting thoughts, and self-defeating behavior. But! I’d also just had one of the most wonderful days of my life (ever EVER in the history of history) so I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how HIGH my positivity ratio could be. Woohoo! Slam dunk!

I took the positivity test by answering the following 20 questions. It only takes a couple minutes. It’s at:

Imagine my shock when, after one of the most positive and fulfilling days of my life – one imbued with joy, hope, potential, and the wild excitement of being totally aligned with who I am and connected to what I am becoming — that my positivity ratio was a miserable 1.67!!

How could this be?? I looked more at the 20 questions, and realized that I had some pretty mean negative emotions getting in my way. Contemptuous, scornful, or disdainful? Check. Disgust, distaste, revulsion? Check… jealousy will do that, and I have issues with jealousy. Hate, distrust, or suspicion? Yeah, unfortunately. Scared, fearful, and afraid? Yep… any time you have a situation in life that you’re not quite totally accepting, it can lead to anxiety.

My positivity test was really depressing. But, as a belligerent optimist by nature, I asked myself what useful opportunity for improvement might this provide? The answer: don’t worry about getting more positive… see what you can do to manage — and eliminate — some of those negative, yucky feelings. Apparently they are more poisonous than I’d been aware of.

Fast forward to a month or so later, and I decided to take the positivity test again. I’ve been consciously managing my jealousy issues (haven’t succeeded yet, but I’m making the effort) — so the negative emotions associated with jealousy are saturating my life a little less. However, I am definitely nowhere near as fun-loving, amazed, hopeful, optimistic, inspired, serene, content, or in the zone of complete awesomeness and loving life as I was last time I took the test. I would suspect that my positivity ratio would be around the same as it was last time. But not so!!

The result? 2.67. Still not in the zone of flourishing, but enough point evidence for me that my strategy of managing negative emotions (and not working so much on trying to be fluffy and fun-loving) is paying off.

I had thought that positivity was all about being more positive. Now I realize the trap: it’s just as much about not being as negative, and not letting the negatives burn their cancer as deeply into your body.

The Two Faces of Social Responsibility

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

In his July post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asked about the relevance of social responsibility. Although I already posted my initial thoughts, I’ve been thinking more about this question:

 “Have those that know quality raised their voices to explain to organizations that being socially responsible is not about philanthropy (giving money for social good), but about [doing well by doing good]?”

Based on my experience working with the development of the ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility a few years ago, and the various articles I’ve read and discussions I’ve had with people about this concept over time, I think the thrust of social responsibility boils down to the following two points:

  • Are we operating ethically and responsibly?
  • Are we making the world a better (or “less bad”) place?

Although many discussions and perceptions of social responsibility are anchored in the second question, most of the guidance in ISO 26000 focuses on the first question! Only two of the ISO 26000 core subjects (human rights & the environment) really align with the philanthropic “corporate treehugger” mentality (discussed by Tim Mohin recently in Fast Company), and all of the core principles reflect shared values that pertain as much to the quality of life within the organization as outside of it.

Also, WORLD can mean a multitude of different things, and any definition you adopt should be perfectly OK. The ISO 26000 core subject of “community development” means that we can do well by doing good in any community – whether our own, or ones in general. You don’t have to make everyone’s world a better place, just someone’s world.

The Mohin article also notes that one goal of social responsibility initiatives in an organization is to “bring a conscience to the corporate structure” – so even if an organization is doing no philanthropy, as long as they are engaged in continually improving the well-being of a community (even if that community is within the organization) – they are still contributing to social responsibility.

At the same time, it’s possible for the most philanthropic, non-profit organization that’s doing AWESOME things to make the world a better place — to not be socially responsible at all by not adhering to ethical and responsible business practices.

Is Social Responsibility (SR) Mainstream or on the Fringe?

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

In his July post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks about the relevance of social responsibility:

“Is the world growing more responsive to the needs of being socially responsible (SR)?  Is SR mainstream thought, or still in the fringe?  Have those that know quality raised their voices to explain to organizations that being socially responsible is not about philanthropy (giving money for social good), but about [doing well by doing good]?”

Is SR mainstream thought, or still in the fringe? I think it’s a combination of both. The concept of social responsibility (aka corporate social responsibility) is not new – in fact, it’s been part of the fabric of the continuously improved Baldrige Criteria since the early 2000’s. With the 2010 publication of the ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility, the concept has been formally segmented into 7 “core subjects” which include organizational governance, human rights, labor practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement and development. In addition, there are 7 “core principles” which include accountability, transparency, ethical behavior, respect for stakeholder interests, respect for law, respect for international norms of behavior, and respect for human rights. Undoubtedly, many organizations embrace these core principles as part of their fundamental ethically-driven value systems.

So people have been doing it, companies have been doing it, but the formalization of social responsibility is what’s new – and still, in many ways, on the fringe.

From the research perspective, there is still much to be explored – we have just set foot on the fringe. I wrote an article (scheduled for the October 2012 issue of the Quality Management Journal) that explored emerging themes in quality management research. One of the things I discovered,  by doing a citation network analysis and exploratory text mining, is that there is much work to be done in exploring how social responsibility can be applied as a quality management practice. Here’s an excerpt from my upcoming article:

…rigorous research into either what to do or how to do it following Ahire et al. (1995) is absent. Ascigil (2010) explored social responsibility in Turkish firms for the QMJ, but no broader examinations are yet available. Because the concept map indicates that QMJ research has effectively integrated strategy development and culture concerns into its examination of quality impacts of business results, hubs within the QMJ may provide an effective starting point (e.g. Grandzol & Gershon 1997, Kujala & Lillrank 2004, Handfield et al. 1998, or Cameron & Sine 1999).

Regarding Paul’s second question, I believe that it is quite common to conflate social responsibility with philanthropy, and that as a community we should seek to really understand the difference – and apply it in our organizations. To accomplish this, we need to ASK WHY we are doing what we do MUCH more aggressively, and make these motivations (and the directions for the flow of our profits!) much more transparent to our customers and stakeholders. Only then, in my opinion, will we make the lofty ideals of social responsibility and ISO 26000 more real in our organizations and communities.

If you’re looking for more information about social responsibility or ISO 26000, the March 2011 issue of ISO Focus+ is a must-read.

Modernizing the Balanced Scorecard

We covered Kaplan and Norton’s (1996) Balanced Scorecard in my ISAT 654 (Advanced Technology Management) class at JMU a couple weeks ago. Appropriately, the students recognized that the research into balanced metrics and the strategy maps underlying the method is nearly 20 years old. Hasn’t the Balanced Scorecard been modernized since then, they asked, to reflect changing concerns in a changing world – especially social, political and environmental concerns? After all, sustainability and social responsibility are major concerns these days, and any scorecard that’s worth its salt should incorporate these considerations, they argued.

Here are a few “modernizations” I found that might be of interest:



Möller, A. & Schaltegger, S., (2005). The Sustainability Balanced Scorecard as a Framework for Eco-Efficiency Analysis, Journal of Industrial Ecology, 9(4), 73-83.

Sidiropolous, M., Mouzakitis, Y., Adamides, E., & Goutsos, S. (2004). Applying Sustainable Indicators to Corporate Strategy: The Eco-Balanced Scorecard. Environmental Research, Engineering & Management, 1(27), 28-33.

Quality and the Great Contraction

From the July 6, 2009 issue of Business Week:

“A new world order is dawning – one in which the West is no longer dominant, capitalism (at least the American version) is out of favor, and protectionism is on the rise… the era of laissez-faire economics is over, and statism, once discredited, is making a comeback – even in the U.S…. global trade is set to fall this year, for the first time in more than two decades.”

We have been conditioned to think that the notion of space – geographic space – does not matter in the new economy. We have the Internet, and ideas can zing from one place to another with ease (and nearly instantaneously, for that matter). Add to this videoconferencing with Skype, and keeping up with your contacts on Twitter and Facebook in near-real time, and it’s no wonder that people have also become accustomed to assuming that materials can move from one place to another with similar relative ease.

Space does matter. We know this when we are designing facilities and plant layouts, for example, because one of our common considerations is to minimize traffic between areas and departments. More often than not, we do this to minimize the time spent moving people or equipment around a plant, so that time is not wasted. But the same concept could apply to our supply chains. Why aren’t we minimizing the time that components or goods spend traveling through the supply chain, when it could lead to reductions in energy costs? Furthermore, why aren’t we shortening our supply chains to strengthen local and regional businesses, and train the next generation of skilled workers (who can actually do something useful for the regional economy)?

The logic has been something like this: energy is cheap, therefore transportation is cheap, and transportation is easily available and accessible through third-party providers like FedEx and UPS. But I can’t shake the feeling that “supply chain status quo” is not good for quality in the long-term – because it encourages us to source the products and components that are most affordable, rather than the ones that might help us cultivate a quality consciousness in our local areas.

Quality and Productivity Through Reflection

mirrorOn April 9, 2009, Computerworld published a highly “Digg-ed” post entitled “Why Goofing Off Boosts Productivity”. This article highlighted some recent research results from the University of Melbourne that demonstrated the utility of occasional Twittering and Facebook-ing from work, and suggested some additional anecdotal reasons why “Internet slacking” might be productive.

Productivity has been described in many ways, for example as the ratio of output to input , task completion through David Allen’s Getting Things Done, or focus on business results using the concept of the Results-Only Work Environment.

But it is easy to forget that quality and sustainability also play a role in productivity as well. Jorgenson & Griliches (1967), for example, explicitly define productivity as the ratio of total input quality and quantity to total output quality and quantity. Hawken, Lovins & Lovins (1999) consider total-resource productivity in Natural Capitalism, a measure that emphasizes the efficiency with which a production process uses its energy, natural resources and other inputs. That is, you can’t be productive if you are creating a lot of waste – and you are optimally productive if the outputs of your process are useful inputs to someone else’s process!

Problem-solving capacity, in my opinion, represents one of the key elements in total resource productivity – and one that we routinely overlook. As a result of the process of working, can you simultaneously accomplish results and emerge feeling refreshed and renewed? The human psyche and capability to achieve is the ultimate renewable resource, and “burnout” is the indicator that you may be sacrificing total-resource productivity for higher levels of “more traditional” productivity.

The same theme was touched on in an April 8, 2009 post by Dan Markovitz called Why Isn’t Thinking Time Part of Your Standard Work? Although it is acknowledged that thought without action may not be productive, he notes that action without thought can be wasteful as well:

Action without thought leads inevitably to one of the seven forms of muda. It’s very hard to actually stop doing and start thinking, but that’s the real way to eliminate waste and create value. There’s a recent story about a computer room at Toyota’s Torrance headquarters that was getting too warm. Most people would get that email and immediately turn up the air conditioner. You know, respond immediately to the email. But these guys did a root cause analysis and found that the real problem was a blocked air duct. The symptoms didn’t go away immediately, but the real problem was actually solved. It just required some time to think.

The lessons here are interconnected: a) quality and “people-sustainability” are factors in total resource productivity, and b) time to think and reflect contributes to quality in the problem-solving process. Not building “reflective time” into a project schedule or a GTD/ROWE process can negatively impact results when the whole system is considered.

Hawken, P., Lovins, A. & Lovins, L. H. (1999). Natural Capitalism. Little, Brown, & Co.: New York.
Jorgenson, D.W. & Griliches, Z. (1967). “The Explanation of Productivity Change”. Review of Economic Studies 34(99): 249–283.

Management Improvement Carnival #59

I am pleased once again to host John Hunter’s Management Improvement Carnival, featuring some interesting or noteworthy articles that have been posted over the past couple weeks. Be sure to check out previous installations of the Carnival to get a broad sample of the most recent blog posts that are relevant to managers who are interested in quality, innovation and process improvement.

  • Small is the new big. Sustainable is the new growth. Trust is the new competitive advantage. All of the rules of business have changed, and the seismic shift is both electrifying and frightening. But there are opportunities to be embraced, and many of them are summed up in this HBS blog article entitled Why Small Companies Will Win in This Economy
  • There is a great post from March 8 by June Holley, talking about self-organizing to achieve systems-level innovation. She notes that because theory is lacking, this process might be protracted, but to get to the point of understanding theory we need some more “real life” examples and case studies of how we self-organize in our organizations well – and not so well.
  • Is environmentally friendly insulation higher or lower quality? Reflections on the Building Material Emissions Study discuss its outcomes. How we deal with the interplay of quality and social responsibility will become an even greater issue over the next several years as our ability to grow unbounded is checked against the availability of resources – check out this study to see what related studies might be on the horizon.
  • Sustainability 2.0 Doesn’t Add Up by Samuel Mann is an interesting read, reflecting on the notions of sustainability, social responsibility, psychology, and organizations. I’ve included it here for its broad coverage of some interesting topics and vignettes.
  • And did you know that neuroscience may provide some insights into how to stage your process improvement efforts and your initiatives that focus on innovation?
  • And don’t forget to try out Gmail Autopilot, the newly released utility that will help you autorespond in very meaningful ways to your mundane emails and even your money laundering spam from foreign countries. It’s a technology advancement so advanced it’s unbelievable!
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