What are Core Values?

Core values are statements describing a clear and compelling direction for motivating and inspiring people around common beliefs. Individuals and organizations can each have core values. In the organizations, the core values provide a common basis for problem-solving and dispute resolution. This is an integral part of building the organizational or corporate culture, especially if one of the goals of the organization is for its constituents to collectively value quality.

Even if there are no written statements of values, it is nonetheless possible for an organization to understand and adhere to a value system. For example, the U.S. constitution formally outlines many values including liberty, equality, individual rights, freedom of speech, and equal opportunities for justice. However, since its inception the country has operated on a much richer foundation of values, including the appreciation of and commitment to hard work, personal responsibility, integrity, self-reliance and democracy. Through constant reiteration of these values, and a punishment/reward system that encourages actions that embody the values, the ideals are effectively promoted. For example, someone who wants to open their own business and is willing to put in the time, responsibility, and hard work can benefit by reaping both financial rewards and personal benefits (e.g. flexible work week, more time to spend with family).

According to Collins (2006), “we spend too much time drafting and redrafting statements of mission, vision, values and purpose, and too little time aligning with the values and visions in place.” He says that an organization should be a) identifying where the intended core values and the existing environment are misaligned, and b) taking action to create new alignments. To do this effectively, the values must be reinforced at all levels of the organization. For example, if a core value is to encourage employee creativity and problem solving, a suggestion box will be less effective without reinforcements, e.g. rewards and recognition for the best, most creative ideas.


Collins, J. (2006). Aligning with vision and values: correct misalignment. Leadership Excellence.

Epic Quality Fails

One of the commonly applied definitions of quality is that a delivered product (or project) conforms to the specifications originally used to define it. If conformance to specifications does not occur, or if the product fails to satisfy its intended use, then a defect is present.

There’s no better way to drive this point home that to take a look at some humorous situations where a) a defect occurred because the final product did not conform to specifications, or b) where the final product did not align with the context of use! Can you pick out which of these examples from http://failblog.org falls into each category?

There are quality-related posts almost every day at this site – I’ll include the quality fails here every so often.

fail owned pwned pictures
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fail owned pwned pictures
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fail owned pwned pictures
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fail owned pwned pictures
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Flow for Organizational Effectiveness & Increasing Innovation

Finding “work-life balance” has become a theme in modern life. According to WebMD, there are five steps to achieve work-life balance: 1) set good priorities (this requires knowing what you value), 2) eliminate unnecessary distractions, 3) set boundaries, 4) accept help, and 5) plan times for fun and reflection. The Mayo Clinic provides even more ideas for how to achieve the balance. Some people have even observed that perhaps work-life balance is the wrong problem – and achieving a sense of inner peace and purpose boils down to prioritizing effectively.

But finding joy in work can be equally important, and sometime even more important. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the “unsung heroes of quality” in my opinion, has spent his career researching the psychological characteristics and impacts of this feeling. In a September 1996 interview with Wired, he defined flow as “Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Flow has three defining characteristics:

  • Merging of action and awareness – “You’re so involved in what you’re doing you aren’t thinking about yourself as separate from the immediate activity. You’re no longer a participant observer, only a participant. You’re moving in harmony with something else you’re part of.”
  • A sense of control – You’re comfortable with the level of ambiguity of the problem you’re solving, it has been sufficiently constrained so that you’re empowered to make progress, and you’re not worried about your ability to perform – you know you can do it.
  • An altered sense of time – You’re so immersed in your task that there is no room for boredom, and time flies by.

Flow emerges from a intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the feeling of wanting to do something. Extrinsic motivation describes the situation of having to do something. Csikzentmihalyi says we need both – we need the personal stimulus that comes from wanting to perform a task, and the environmental stimulus that comes from other people caring about what we contribute. Many obstacles prevent can people from feeling flow: job burnout, having too many tasks (when you are “stretched too thin” and feel like you’re on autopilot), having too many competing priorities, and lack of boundaries (either work and life blend into one another, or there are “too many chiefs and not enough Indians” working on a problem).

“Understanding how flow works is essential for social scientists interested in improving the quality of life at either the subjective or objective level. Transforming this knowledge into effective action is not easy.”

Finding flow – even occasionally – is one key to achieving organizational effectiveness. Flow is also critical for increasing innovation. No flow, no grow.


Csikszentmihalyi, M., Abuhamdeh, S., & Nakamura, J. (2005). Flow. In Elliot, A.J. & Dweck, C.S. (Eds.), Handbook of Competence and Motivation, Guilford Press.

Low-Tech, High Impact Innovation

Did you know that sometimes, a simple solution can be orders of magnitude more effective than an advanced, modern one?

The term for this is “appropriate technology” – and the concept of appropriate technology is particularly relevant when you want to innovate in a developing economy. But it can also provide a blueprint for innovation under any economic circumstances.

The World Bank, an assistance agency of the United Nations, provides funds to developing countries for projects that are not eligible for lending from institutions in other world markets. Although it was originally instituted to fund reconstruction projects after World War II, its projects to date include building power dams, improving sanitation, stimulating agricultural technology transfer (particularly for independent farmers), and stimulating technology transfer for all aspects of industrial technology in developing countries. Citing E.F. Schumacher’s 1973 book as the source of the “appropriate technology” movement, World Bank research economists collected and gathered empirical evidence to test the notion that “intermediate” technologies adapted to local conditions that include lesser education and more widespread unemployment would be more effective in achieving local economic goals. (Weiss 2006)

They found that indeed, you could pick technologies to implement in under-developed countries that had excellent cost/benefit profiles – but those technologies would still not be adopted by the people (or they might adopt them, but the effect would be detrimental). Weiss traced the progress of four initiatives that considered this paradox using the principle of appropriate technology. The latest, greatest equipment to move earth and build villages faster looked like it had great innovative potential – on paper. But what really happened as a result of this study?

The researchers came up with some pretty enlightening examples of efficient appropriate technology in the field. For example, did you know that head baskets can be one of the most efficient solutions for moving earth over short distances on level ground? Did you know that donkeys provide a more effective solution for transporting materials short distances up steep slopes than heavy machines?

Adopting the perspective of “appropriate technology” is an excellent way to promote and increase innovation. Your solutions don’t have to be high tech, they just have to provide wide benefits – and taking this sometimes counterintuitive approach can be enlightening.

The concept of appropriate technology reflects both the ISO 8402 definition of quality, and the ISO 9241-11 definition of usability, each of which requires four elements: specified users (or people who benefit), specified goals, systems that are intended to meet those goals for those users, and a specified context of use. Too often we might neglect that final element, which really represents what we are trying to achieve when we consider the appropriateness of technology. If we strive to always take into account systems thinking, however, we should naturally account for many of these considerations as we accommodate a myriad of international and cultural differences.


Weiss, C. (2006). Science and technology at the World Bank, 1968-83. History and Technology, 22(1), March 2006, p. 81-104.

DMAIC Demystified

The DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) methodology is one of the cornerstones of a Six Sigma project. It provides a useful heuristic that can remind you how to structure your project when you apply Six Sigma. This is important for two reasons. First, by reminding you to DEFINE your project’s goals, its deliverables to external customers, its deliverables to internal customers, and most important – your definition of a defect – you establish the solid foundation for actually delivering process improvements that meet tangible goals. Second, DMAIC provides a common language for Six Sigma practitioners so that new teams can spend time solving problems instead of searching for their own standard operating procedures.

If you’re familiar with Deming’s PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle, DMAIC is essentially equivalent, but with a very important addition at the end:

  • Planning = Defining
  • Doing = Measuring
  • Checking = Analyzing
  • Acting = Improving
  • (Sustaining/Continually Learning) = Controlling

There’s nothing magical about DMAIC – it’s just a helpful reminder to guide you as you structure a Six Sigma project. And remember that a Six Sigma project is hopefully not the end of the improvement – ideally, a process team will leave behind a new foundation for identifying more efficiencies in the future.

How ISO 8402 (9000 para 3.1.5) Relates Quality to Innovation

The ISO 8402 standard (now 9000 para 3.1.5) defines quality as “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.”

It is a static definition, fixed in time, and considers only those characteristics that meet stated and implied needs now. It addresses the needs of the customers (e.g. inclusion of certain features) as well as the stakeholders (e.g. financial, schedule and resource constraints). This definition attends to the specified needs that are embodied in requirements, specifications documents, and standards (including quality management systems), while acknowledging that an equally important body of needs might be unstated or implied. This suggests that the process of needs identification extends well beyond simply capturing and responding to the audible “voice of the customer”.

The word “totality” suggests that quality is more than just characteristics; it is also the design, implementation, and interaction of those characteristics with the individual, implying a much richer context for the practice of quality problem solving. Because utility is the ability to satisfy needs, this definition can even be abbreviated as “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear on its utility.”

This definition easily accommodates the notion of innovation when the time dimension is added: innovation becomes the totality of characteristics needed to satisfy future utility.

(This fully aligns with the ASQ Innovation and Value Creation group’s 2012 description of innovation as quality for tomorrow.)

What is Quality?

What is quality? There are a myriad of ways to define quality, which is one reason why the study or pursuit of quality can feel so nebulous at times. For example, quality can be considered:

  • Zero defects (Crosby)
  • Conformance to requirements (Crosby)
  • Fitness for use (Juran)
  • Best for customer conditions (Feigenbaum)

Hunt (1992) provides an overview of the defintions of quality. This considers the definitions above a little more thematically:

  • Transcendent (you know it when you see it)
  • Product-based (defect-free, or presence of required/positive attributes)
  • User-based (customer defines needs)
  • Manufacturing-based (conformance)
  • Value-based (“best for customer conditions”)

Despite the range of definitions, the goals underlying the pursuit of quality and continuous improvement are the same: achieving conformity, reducing variation, eliminating waste and rework, eliminating non-value-adding activity, preventing human error, preventing defects, improving productivity, and increasing efficiency and effectiveness (Okes & Westcott, 2000).

Only one definition seems to capture all of the others, though. ISO 8402 defines quality as “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear on its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” An entity can be any technology – a product, a process, or a system. “Characteristics” covers both the attributes of that technology and the processes that produced it. “Stated and implied” needs acknowledges that customers will have needs, but other stakeholders can have needs too (you, your boss, your shareholders, your company). If “you know quality when you see it,” that means that something is meeting your stated and implied needs – your spoken and unspoken specifications. Even if you can’t define what you mean by quality, when quality is achieved, your implied needs will be met.

As much as the ISO 8402 definition of quality really appeals to me, there is still one framework for understanding quality that’s even more comprehensive and elegant! It’s Mitra’s Model.


Hunt, V.D. (1992) Quality in America: How to Implement a Competitive Quality Program. Mc-Graw Hill.

Okes, D. & Westcott, R. (2000). The Certified Quality Manager Handbook. Milwaukee: Quality Press.

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