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2012 Management Improvement Carnival – Part 2

doug-jan-e(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

I am pleased once again to host ASQ Influential Voices blogger John Hunter’s Management Improvement Carnivalfeaturing some interesting or noteworthy articles that have been posted over the past year. 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.

This post covers the final two of four blogs that I reviewed for the Management Improvement Carnival: Design Thinking (Thoughts by Tim Brown), and Business901 by Joe Dager (who I also follow on Twitter at @business901).

(In Part 1, I reviewed 2012 posts in StatsMadeEasy and the Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) collection of insights from Peter Bregman.)

Any student of innovation is bound to be familiar with IDEO, a design firm that has a long history of uniting the power of the creative culture with practical, tangible results. IDEO’s President, Tim Brown, blogs at In addition to sharing their creative prototypes online, IDEO has also produced a Human-Centered Design Toolkit which can help nonprofits and community agencies apply design thinking to innovate in their domains. It’s a powerhouse of a company with a long-lived reputation for pushing the limits when it comes to thinking about innovation.

In “Does the Media Have a Negative Effect on Innovation?” Tim asks whether news media’s focus on the risks of certain technologies and new developments might blind us to potentially positive – and breakthrough – innovations related to those technologies. He encourages positive storytelling as a means of stimulating innovation, and challenges us to embark on “optimistic and helpful journalism” when we share technical stories. These, he suggests, will encourage even greater innovation.

In October, Tim shared the secret phrase all innovators use… and it’s rather simple and straightforward! Since reading this post last year, I’ve tried his approach when I’m presented with challenging situations… even those in my own life, where I’m required to find creative solutions to time management issues all my own. It’s been a valuable technique… I encourage you to find out what it is – and try it!

I was really inspired by the November post on Creative Confidence. In addition to having great ideas, you have to connect with your stakeholders in an authentic, emotional way – and not be afraid to really follow through, even when you’re opposed in one way or another. He links to a TED talk where you can hear more about his idea, and summarizes what creative thinking means to him:

“Creative thinking in business begins with having empathy for your customers (whether they’re internal or external), and you can’t get that sitting behind a desk.”

In the quality world, we’re used to seeing how concepts from the visual factory can be quickly and easily applied to generate high value. In “Make it Visual,” Tim supports this idea, but notes that it can be just as straightforwardly applied to idea generation as to operations. He encourages us to try, for a week, to “record observations and ideas visually” to bring abstract ideas into being. This is definitely an experiment I’m planning for sometime in 2013.

Last but definitely not least is Joe Dager‘s Business901 blog. I follow Joe on Twitter – and his feed is always buzzing with cool thoughts and ideas that keep me on my feet. Along with Saul Kaplan and Valdis Krebs’ OrgNet, it’s one of my favorite ways to keep up with ideas and insights that will help me understand innovation in greater depth. Joe is one of my primary sources for figuring out which cool TED talk to watch next.

In February, Joe introduced me to Appreciative Inquiry… which I had never heard of before. This approach to organizational development, which emerged from knowledge management research in the 1990’s, seeks to integrate positive thinking (and thus positive psychology in general) into the design and management of organizations. Quality researchers, take note of Appreciative Inquiry!! In my January 2013 article in the Quality Management Journal, my analysis of QMJ research indicates that integrating positive psychology into quality management is a gap that we must all seek to fill.

As a fan of Jane McGonigal, I’m also interested in Joe’s posts on how gaming can enhance various aspects of business and quality management. He introduces us in one post to Dave Gray’s Gamestorming technique, which I’d like to try. In another post, “How Gaming Teaches You to Plan,” he suggests that games provide excellent training for navigating your way through messy (real-life) situations, where your ability to change and adapt can be paramount to survival:

Understanding when to deviate from your plan through adjusting or even discarding it entirely can be learned and simulated through gaming.

I also think Joe and I are similarly oriented in our thinking in many ways… so many of his articles truly resonate with me. For example, I strongly support Deming’s notion that the underlying purpose of the 14 Points is to help people be able to work with joy… and articles like April’s “The Show Business Side of Service Design” seem to present the same encouragement. In this post, he summarizes his podcast with Adam Lawrence of Work Play Experience, who asserts that service design is theatrical… and thus should be fun. When asked by Joe whether that means all interactions should be scripted (a common practice in service scenarios to ensure consistency) Adam responded that each person must interpret those words in their own way… and that improvisation centered around the core message is, of course, not excluded. I’d never considered service occupations to require a dramatic flair… but many of them do, and indeed, leveraging this as a feature of those kind of jobs could make the work environment more fun.

Joe’s got tons of great posts, and a frequent update schedule. Follow him on Twitter to get real-time updates about when new articles are posted.

That’s it for my contribution to this year’s Management Improvement Carnival. See you next year!

The December 2012 End of the World IMPROVEMENT CHALLENGE

lucy-dec3(Image Credit: Lucy Glover of Lucy Glover Photography, San Francisco CA. Used with permission.)

Hey everybody, remember last month when everyone was posting things they were thankful for in the twenty-odd days leading up to Thanksgiving? (They might still be doing it… I don’t know.) I thought that was a great idea. So I started doing something similar this month that I’ll tell you all about now!!

But as many of you know, the Mayan Calendar is coming to an end, and we’re moving into a new world of completely undetermined proportion. Some predict a doomsday scenario, which means it will be very easy to see what’s changed. Others predict a BIG NOTHING, a non-event kind of like Y2K (well… that one actually had some ripple effects for me. But that’s another story that I’ll post later. I diverge.)

A non-event means IT’S UP TO US TO CHANGE THINGS. So my challenge to all of you for December 2012 is: let’s get in the habit of improving a least ONE thing a day between now and the much hyped “end of the world”. If the world does end, it will end being just a little better than it was at the beginning of December. And if it doesn’t end, we might have 1) developed a new habit or mode of self-reflection that will serve us well moving ahead into 2013, and/or 2) built some very useful social capital that will enhance the resilience of our individual communities.

(Disappointed that you didn’t get to the party on December 1st? Don’t worry! Make your improvement for today to START IMPROVING ONE THING A DAY, starting NOW!)

I’ll toss out some ideas for your own DAILY IMPROVEMENT CHALLENGE at the end of this post.

But in the meantime, let’s broadly consider what would happen to our sociotechnical systems (composed of people, products, processes, and projects) in the event of a massive shift or change (of any variety, “new age” or “old age”!) The products will change. The projects will change. The processes will be adapted to make projects to create the new products, and since we don’t know what the environment will be like, or what the new products we’ll need will be…

… the only STABLE element in this mix is the PEOPLE.

When the world disruptively changes around us without killing us, we’re still left behind. Which means our personal capabilities and our capabilities working together in groups and communities – our social capital – becomes increasingly more important.

My friend Daniel Aldrich, who’s been seriously researching this for several years, has determined that social capital is the number one thing that helps communities revitalize after disasters. So if you think there’s a possibility of a major change, you could prepare by stockpiling food and fuel, or you could just work on building your own self-reliance and the social capital within your community.

So I challenge you to DO ONE THING EVERY DAY between now and December 21, 2012 to accomplish one of the following improvement goals, all of which are related to increasing positive feelings:

  • improve how YOU feel
  • improve how someone ELSE feels
  • improve something about your ENVIRONMENT, as long as it make YOU or someone else feel good/better
  • do something courageous to improve your SELF-CONFIDENCE or self-image (or someone else’s!)
  • improve your AWARENESS of other peoples’ beliefs, situations, circumstances, or beliefs
  • improve your BURDEN by getting rid of a grudge or negative feelings… even if only for a day

Think about the many sources of waste, or maybe read about 5S, to get you started with ideas for where you might begin. Scott Rutherford (@srlean6) also recommends this post  as well as this one for some background on 5S.

(For example, yesterday, I decided to improve someone’s day! We went to a restaurant grand opening, and the place was packed like sardines. Our server was rushing around from table to table, sweating profusely but still maintaining an admirably positive vibe. When he got to our table, smiling with enthusiasm, and asked us what we wanted – I told him I wanted him to close his eyes for a minute, and take three DEEP breaths! He thought this was a bizarre request, but he did it. After all, I was the customer… right? After his third deep breath he said “Wow! I really do feel better. Just that minute of standing still is really going to help me get through this big grand opening night.” He was visibly more relaxed with everyone the rest of the evening. See how easy it can be?)

The world changes when we change. So let’s go!! Let’s start some improvement habits that will spread good feelings and inspire ourselves and others. Let’s use this time to learn how to make it a daily practice.

And post in the comments – tell us what you have chosen to improve from day to day!

Access METAR Weather Data in R Statistical Software

Although this is neither quality nor innovation related, as a multi-decade weather geek and degreed meteorologist, I still really love my weather data. Today I wanted to learn how to retrieve historical weather data from within the R statistical software. I managed to get a list within R that contains METAR observations for an entire day for one observing station. Here’s how I did it!

1. First, I signed up for a KEY to use the Weather Underground API at – I’m not going to tell you what my personal key is, but it has 16 characters and looks kind of like this: d7000XXXXXXXXXXX

2. Next, I installed the rjson package into R

3. Then, I used this code to find out that there were 46 observations for August 11, 2012 (the date of interest). You’ll have to try it with YOUR new Weather Underground API key in place of the d7000XXX… :


x <- fromJSON("


daily.metars <- rep(NA,length((x$history)$observations))
for (n in 1:length((x$history)$observations)) {
daily.metars[n] <- (x$history$observations)[[n]]$metar

4. Now you have a list in R called daily.metars that contains strings holding all of your METARs for the day! Here’s the header from the list that I produced:

> head(daily.metars)
[1] "SPECI KCHO 110408Z AUTO 00000KT 5SM VCTS -RA BR SCT003 BKN030 OVC075 21/19 A2983 RMK AO2 LTG DSNT SW P0001"
[2] "SPECI KCHO 110433Z AUTO 20005KT 6SM -TSRA BR FEW003 BKN033 OVC110 21/19 A2984 RMK AO2 LTG DSNT NE AND S AND SW TSE11B27 P0002"
[3] "METAR KCHO 110453Z AUTO 00000KT 5SM -TSRA BR SCT018 SCT046 OVC100 21/19 A2983 RMK AO2 LTG DSNT NE-S TSE11B27 SLP093 P0003 T02060194 402940200"
[4] "SPECI KCHO 110529Z AUTO 00000KT 8SM -RA FEW070 SCT095 BKN110 21/19 A2982 RMK AO2 LTG DSNT NE-SE TSE23 P0001"
[5] "METAR KCHO 110553Z AUTO 00000KT 8SM FEW085 21/19 A2982 RMK AO2 LTG DSNT NE-SE TSE23RAE30 SLP090 P0001 60127 T02060194 10250 20200 58004"
[6] "METAR KCHO 110653Z AUTO 18005KT 8SM BKN090 21/19 A2983 RMK AO2 SLP093 T02060194"

SPIE Chairs: Here’s Help Processing Your Reviewer Ratings

The Problem: You are a Chair for a SPIE conference, your review team has provided numerical ratings for all your oral and poster submissions, and now you have to sort through all the numbers and prepare a draft program.

The Solution: Use R!

1. Go into MySPIE into the “Review Presentations” section

2. Click on the Excel icon for “Reviewer Results” (with comments)

3. Save that file as a CSV into some directory on your machine. I saved mine to C:/SPIE12/PresRevs.csv

4. Download the R Statistical Software from if you don’t already have it.

5. Open R and cut and paste the following code onto your R command line. (Note: Use YOUR OWN directory name or it won’t work… mine is SPIE12 on my hard drive for this year’s conference.)

spie <- read.csv("PresRevs.csv",header=TRUE)
names(spie)[1] = "tracking"
names(spie)[2] = "conference"
names(spie)[3] = "papernum"
names(spie)[4] = "title"
names(spie)[5] = "reviewer"
names(spie)[6] = "rating"
names(spie)[7] = "recommendation"
names(spie)[8] = "comments"
names(spie)[9] = "more.comments"
papermeans <- aggregate(spie$rating,by=list(papernum),FUN=mean,na.rm=TRUE)
t <-unique(spie$title)
all <- cbind(papermeans,t)
names(all)[1] = "papernum"
names(all)[2] = "mean.rating"
names(all)[3] = "title"
sorted <- all[rev(order(papermeans$mean.rating)),]

6. This will export two CSV files, one with all your processed reviews in order of the paper number, and the other in order of the highest ranked paper first.

7. Have fun preparing your program.

Note: If ANYONE uses this, let me know – would love to know that my solution for making my SPIE Chair life easier actually helped someone else too. Or, if you can think of improvements to make, I might be interested in coding those for future use too 🙂 Leave a comment or send an email. Thanks.

My 2012 Resolution is Myopium

The dictionary defines myopia as narrow mindedness, the inability to see things that aren’t right in front of you. However, the positive spin on myopia is that you can choose to hold only those things in your vision that support what you want to achieve, and where you want to go in life.

As a result, I propose my 2012 resolution: the choice to be blissfully afflicted by myopium: that is, becoming singularly focused on those things that provide me with ecstasy, beatitude, buoyancy, euphoria, joy and accomplishment – and turning away from grief, disappointment, and sorrow. This does not mean that grief and its cousins might not pay me visits occasionally, as is their nature – it just means that I’m going to minimize the time I spend with them this year.

Fortunately, there are many constructive things that I do (many related to my job teaching science and technology to college students) that provide me with feelings of joy. My goal is to do MORE of the things that make me feel good while I’m doing them, and LESS of the things that make me feel bad or make me feel nothing. Feeling good can only contribute to increased productivity… so that’s where I’m headed.

Happy 2012!

How I Passed My ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB) Exam

I very recently took my ASQ CSSBB exam and passed! Here’s what I think helped me:

[And here’s my OTHER POST that has my notes attached! Enjoy!] – October 2012

[Note: On February 9, 2015 I added my Top 10 Statistics Topics for the CSSBB Exam to this blog]

1. I studied for about 4 weeks (2 weeks very gently, 1 week much-more-work-because-the-exam-is-getting-closer, and 1 week of panicked, freaked out all nighters) using these great references that I wrote up tons of comments about.

2. I took about 10 pages of really good, concise notes. (I’ll share those with you sometime before the end of the year… want to write them up for public consumption.) (Note from October 4, 2012: OK, so I didn’t package them for public consumption, but I did post PDFs of EXACTLY what I brought in with me to the exam.)

3. I brought about 15 super sharp #2 pencils just in case 14 of them broke. I made sure all the pencils actually SAID #2 on them, so the Scantron machine wouldn’t fail me.

4. I brought my SMART RULER. I’ve had this ruler since the late 1980’s, and every time I’ve taken a tough test, I’ve had my smart ruler with me in case I need to underline anything, or draw dividers between notes. I usually never have to USE the ruler. Usually, its presence is enough to make me do better on any exam.

5. They (the people who say such things) say that peppermint makes you smarter. So I got a new pack of Orbit peppermint gum and chewed it like I had obsessive compulsive disorder for all four hours. (Afterwards I found out that the peppermint thing isn’t really backed up by research, but I didn’t know that going into the exam, so I believed that the peppermint would make my brain work better, and that belief probably helped me out. Got to stack the deck in my favor… didn’t want those 4 weeks of studying NOT to pay off.)

6. When I wasn’t chewing gum, I was nibbling on a Reese’s peanut butter bar. Best 300 calorie investment ever made… the protein made my stomach stop growling so it wouldn’t bother the other test takers.

7. I also brought a couple very cold Diet Cokes, to wash down the peanut butter and the gum taste.

8. To appropriately address my superstitious nature, I wore my Ganesh necklace. In Hindu parlance, Ganesh helps break through obstacles, and I figured the exam that stood between me and CSSBB-hood was definitely an obstacle I wanted broken. (Hey, whatever works, right??)



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