Tag Archives: business

A Decade of PhD: What I’ve Learned from Academia and Industry

Today is Cinco de Mayo! It’s also the 10th Anniversary of my PhD defense…. something I carefully timed for late afternoon on this day in 2009. (I wanted to make sure I could celebrate the joyful occasion — or drown my sorrows — with 2-for-1 margaritas. Fortunately, the situation was liquid joy; unfortunately, I still got a hangover.)

I’m writing this post to share what I’ve learned about the value of getting a PhD (is there value?) and the applicability of PhD-level work to industry. If you’re considering more education, maybe this will help you decide whether it’s the right choice. If you’re in industry and trying to figure out whether to hire PhDs, some of what I write here might help. But first, some background!

I never even thought I’d get a PhD — it certainly didn’t happen out of intent or design. My family was poor and I studied ridiculously hard so I could “escape it.” I didn’t think I was smart enough for a PhD, even though I started college at 16 taking half undergrad classes and half grad classes in meteorology. I aced my grad classes and very maturely ignored my required classes, so I got kicked out. (At the same time, I wasn’t really fitting in with people… my roommate called me “Nerdcole”.) When I was let back in the department head wouldn’t let me take any grad classes so I got bored and burned out… not surprising since I was supporting myself, and working three jobs to make that happen. I quit school to work at an e-commerce startup when I was 18. A few months later, thanks to (good) peer pressure, I took 3 credit by exams to see if it would get me over the finish line, and thanks to some side skills I had picked up in vector calculus and statistics, it worked and I got the BS. But I was still left with a pretty bad GPA, and even worse self esteem, and I was convinced no one would ever let me into grad school.

I figured I’d focus on industry and help companies grow. There was no other choice.

The Back Story

After spending a couple years building web sites and storefronts (a huge feat in 1995 and 1996!) I took a job at a national lab as a systems analyst, supporting older scientists and engineers and helping them get work done. The main lesson I learned during this time was: Alignment between strategy and objectives doesn’t come for free (teams of people have to spend dedicated time on it), and most people are really disorganized. There had to be a better way to get work done.

A few years later, I was a traveling Solutions Architect, parachuted once or twice a month into CRM software implementation fiascos around the globe. My job was to figure out what to do to turn these jobs around — was it a people problem? An architecture problem? A training problem? A systems thinking problem? A little of everything? I had a couple weeks to make a recommendation, and then I was on to the next project (results were usually pretty good). But since this required evaluating technology decisions in the context of business and financial constraints, my boss suggested that I use the tuition benefits offered by my job to get an MBA. I had taken 9 credits of science and industrial engineering classes since I’d graduated, so I contacted two of the local MBA schools to see if they’d accept me and my credits. Sure enough, one of them did! I took evening classes for a year and a half, and eventually ended up with an MBA. But I never thought I could (or would) go farther — I’m not that smart, I’d tell myself. Also, it’s expensive. Also, a PhD would probably make me less marketable. (All lies, spoken by a lack of confidence.)

Shortly thereafter, the travel started to get to me (I was flying at least three days a week), so I looked for an opportunity to grow and cultivate a software development organization. (That’s how I ended up in Data Management at NRAO.) A little management led to a lot of management. A few years later one of the organization’s leaders said it was “too bad I didn’t have a PhD” — because in a highly scientific and technical organization, it would give me more credibility and make me a better leader.

“Will you pay for it?” I asked. “Sure,” they said. I just had to find a suitable program that wouldn’t require me to go full time. I’ve always loved learning, and I couldn’t resist the temptation of free education — even if it meant I’d have to balance the demands of a challenging full-time job and a first-time baby at the same time. That’s how much I love learning, just for learning’s sake! I still didn’t think a PhD had that much value, unless you were studying to be a lab scientist or you were dead set on becoming a historian and teaching for the rest of your life. None of these personas was me, but the free education thing sold me, and I didn’t really think about how relevant this step was to my career direction until much later.

Fortunately, I found the perfect program for me — a hybrid academic/practitioner PhD that would help me develop the research and analytical skills to solve practical problems in business and industrial technology.

The next few years were pretty rough, and by the time I got my PhD, I was in my 14th year of post-college professional employment. First lesson learned: it’s probably not the best move to start PhD coursework when you have a three-month old. I have no idea how I made it through.

Shortly after graduating, the impacts of the financial crisis hit our federally funded organization and I was able to segue into a second career as a college professor, teaching data science and manufacturing/EHSQ classes. For the past year, I’ve been back in industry (maybe permanently; we’ll see) and have a better sense of the value of PhDs in industry.

Value of Getting a PhD

There are lots of reasons I’m happy with the time I spent getting a PhD, other than the fact that it helped me get an entirely new job when the economy was down:

  • First and foremost, I’m a better critical thinker. It’s now my nature to look at all parts of a problem, examine the interactions between them, and make sure I have all the required background information needed to start working on a problem.
  • I’m a better writer too. I look at reports and presentations I wrote years ago, and can see all the holes and places where I made assumptions that weren’t valid.
  • I developed a new appreciation for clarity. Researchers want to make sure their messages, methodologies, and models are clear and unambiguous… through the contrast, I was able to recognize that in industry, there’s often pressure to skip due diligence and move fast to perform. This pressure leads to ambiguity, which tends towards what I call “intellectual waste” – people assuming that they see a problem or a project in the same way because they haven’t taken the time to guarantee clarity.
  • It’s easier for me to quickly determine whether information might be true or false, or whether there are gaps that need to be closed before moving forward. (It’s possible that this skill is more from grading and evaluating student work… something that’s orders of magnitude harder than it seems.)
  • I realized that words matter. Really thinking about how one person will respond to a word or phrase, and whether it conveys the meaning that you intend, is a craft — that’s enhanced by working with collaborators.
  • And although I knew this one prior to the PhD, I found that data matters. Where did your data come from? Can you access the original? What kind of people (or instruments) gathered it? Can you trust them? The quality of your data — and the suitability of the methods you choose — will impact the quality and integrity of the conclusions you generate from it. Awareness of these factors is essential.

Value of Caution

One of the biggest lessons was the most surprising. Early on in the PhD program I was told that my opinion didn’t count — regardless of how many years of experience I had. Every statement I made had to be backed up and cited, preferably using material that had been peer-reviewed by other qualified people. At first I was kind of offended by this… didn’t these academics have any sense of the value of actual real-world employment? Apparently not.

But something funny happened as I developed the habit of looking for solid references, distilling their messages, and citing them accurately: I became more careful. And in the evolution of my caution and attention to detail, the quality of my work — ANY work — improved tremendously. I was able to learn from what other people had discovered, and anticipate (and resolve) problems in advance. I learned that “standing on the shoulders of giants” actually means figuring out when solved problems already exist so you don’t waste time reinventing wheels.

Something else funny happened as soon as I graduated: all of a sudden, people were asking me for my opinion. But the habit of due diligence was so ingrained that I couldn’t express my opinion… I was compelled to back it up with facts!

(I think this was the point all along. Go figure.)

The beauty of going through the entire messy process of PhD coursework and comps and research and defense and editing — the entire end-to-end process, not cutting out in the middle anywhere — it gave me the discipline and process to root out accurate and complete answers to problems. Or at the very least, to be able to call out the gaps to get there.

There’s a lot of pressure in industry to move fast, but due diligence is still critical for accurate self-assessment and effective cross-functional communication. Slowing down and figuring out how you know what you know — and making sure everyone is literally on the same page — can help your organization achieve its goals more quickly.

Value of PhDs to Industry

So employers (especially in tech) — should you hire PhDs? Yes. Here’s why:

  • PhDs are trained to find gaps in knowledge and understanding. Is your strategic plan grounded in reality, or is it just wishful thinking? Are your Project Charters well scoped, budgeted, and planned out? Is your workforce prepared to carry out your strategic initiatives?
  • Many PhDs with experience teaching undergrads are great at making complex topics accessible to other audiences. This is fantastic for training, cross-training, and marketing.
  • PhDs love research and writing, and can help you with gathering and interpreting data and content marketing.
  • PhDs love learning. Want to be on the cutting edge? They’re great in R&D… they can help you distill new insights from research papers and interpret and apply them accurately.
  • If you want to do AI or machine learning, or anything that uses Big Data, make sure you have at least one PhD statistician with practical analytical experience. They can prevent you from spending millions on dead ends and help you apply Occam’s Razor to avoid unnecessary complexity (the kind that can lead to technical debt later).

Will there be drawbacks? Sure. The habit of caution may need to be tempered somewhat — you don’t have to probe to the bottom of an issue to generate useful information that a business can use to make progress.

Bottom line… don’t be afraid of PhDs! We are mere mortals who just happen to have spent several years trying to figure out how to get to the core — the fundamental truth — of a complex problem. As a result we know how to approach problems like this — problems that many businesses have lots of. (We are not overqualified at all… we just have an extra skill set in something you desperately need, but may not realize you need it.)

Getting a PhD was challenging, frustrating, and maddening at times (especially the final part of getting your camera-ready text ready for ProQuest). I never planned to do it, but I’d totally do it again. I think my only regret is that I got a PhD in a hybrid business/industrial engineering discipline… it allowed me the freedom to pursue my interests, but if I was at the same crossroads now, I’d get a PhD in statistics to complement my MBA. Overall, this is a pretty tiny regret.

Writing about Business Model Innovation: Where Do You Start?

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Innovation is what happens when we create new value by meeting needs. Sometimes, this comes in the form of a new process, product, or program. Other times, it comes in the form of reconfiguring the whole ecosystem for creating and sharing that value — also known as “business model innovation.”

A business model is a conceptual tool containing a set of objects, concepts and their relationships with the objective to express the business logic of a specific firm. Therefore we must consider which concepts and relationships allow a simplified description and representation of what value is provided to customers, how this is done and with which financial consequences. — Osterwalder, Pigneur, & Tucci (2005)

But if you’re an academic (or part of the BIF community), where do you find research on business model innovation, and where should you publish research and insights about business model innovation? I have a paper that’s in preparation, and I need to know where I should send it (mostly, just to know how many words I should have before I stop writing). So I went on a little journey to help figure this out, which also yielded a recommendation for three authors that you really should read if you’re publishing in this area.

Step 1: Read Zott, Amit & Massa (2011) – which provides a contemporary literature review of research on business models.

Step 2: Decide whether you’d like to publish in a traditional journal that covers business models and business model innovation, but is not solely dedicated to that pursuit. As its source material, the Zott article drew from 9 academic journals and 3 practitioner journals that meet this criterion. You can start your process by exploring business model research in these journals:

Academic Journals:

Practitioner-oriented journals:

Step 3: Consider journals that are new and/or primarily focused on business model innovation. Here are 3 that I found, with information about their publication and the publishing process. Enjoy exploring.

1. Journal of Business Models
http://journals.aau.dk/index.php/JOBM
Author guidelines at http://journals.aau.dk/index.php/JOBM/about/submissions#authorGuidelines
Sample Issue at: http://journals.aau.dk/index.php/JOBM/issue/view/106
PAGE CHARGES: Yes, but amount not specified

OPEN ACCESS POLICY/Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Audience: Academics and Consultants
Scope: International
Format: 5000-8000 words, MS Word
References: Harvard style (examples in author guidelines)
Accepts: Research paper, viewpoint, technical paper, conceptual paper, case study, lit review, review

The array of perspectives presented above lead to the identification of 10 key theme areas for which the
Journal of Business Models intends to have a special focus:

1. Business Model Design: designing, rejuvenating, innovating and facilitating
2. Implementing business models: the execution process
3. Commercialization and exploitation of ideas through business models: challenging entrepreneurial processes
4. Seeking the true benefits of a globalised world: how internationalization of activities affects business
models
5. Business model archetypes and key components: integrating building blocks and typologies
6. The strategic partnerships of business models: Roles and relationships within and among business models
7. Business models and high-tech ventures
8. The performance of business models: Dilemmas and paradoxes of performance measurement consequences
9. Defining what business models are about: The epistemological and conceptual roots of business models and
their differences with strategy, strategic management, organisation and business planning
10. Tools and techniques

“Soon we are opening a new section on book reviews. If you are interested in making a book review please send
an e-mail to Christian Nielsen (chn@business.aau.dk). The first review is of Osterwalder and Pigneur’s new
book “Value Proposition Design” which will be published soon.”

2. Long Range Planning (an International Journal of Strategic Management)
http://www.journals.elsevier.com/long-range-planning/
Author guidelines at: http://www.elsevier.com/journals/long-range-planning/0024-6301/guide-for-authors
Sample articles at: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/long-range-planning/open-access-articles/
PAGE CHARGES: Yes, $1800 USD, if you want your article to be open access.

OPEN ACCESS OPTION
Audience: Academics
Scope: International
Format: MS Word, length not specified
References: examples in author guidelines
Accepts: Research paper, technical paper

“The areas of work published by LRP include, among others: corporate strategy and governance, business strategy and new business models, international dimensions of strategy, strategies for emerging markets, entrepreneurship, innovation, organizational structure and design, corporate social responsibility, management of technology, methods for strategy research, and business processes.”

3. Open Journal of Business Model Innovation
http://www.scipublish.com/journals/BMI/
Auhor Guidelines at
Sample Article at: http://www.scipublish.com/journals/BMI/papers/1250 (can download PDF)
PAGE CHARGES: YES, but only after 3/31/05

OPEN ACCESS POLICY/IP sharing license not cited
Audience: Academics and Practitioners
Scope: International
Format: MS Word, “approximately 10 pages” with Cover Letter
References: examples in sample article
Accepts: Research papers, issue analysis, rigorous new insights that will advance the field

The Open Journal of Business Model Innovation is a peer-reviewed journal published by Scientific Online
Publishing. It presents current academic research and practical findings in field of business model
innovation. Topics appropriate and related to business model innovation include the role of business models
within corporations, the process and instruments for business model innovation, business models within
several industries, social business models and business models in emerging markets. Topics also include the
quantitative and qualitative evaluation of business models. The journal addresses issues as: What are the
drivers for business model innovation? How companies innovate their business model? How do companies evaluate
existing and new business models? How do companies integrate business models in their corporation? How do
companies manage multiple business models? Disciplinary boundaries that straddle business model innovation
include strategic management, entrepreneurship, innovation management and others.

Management Improvement Carnival #161

It’s been a long time! Although I haven’t served in this role since the spring of 2009, I am pleased once again to host ASQ Influential Voices blogger 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.

My top recommendation is Lotto Lai’s review of a recent symposium in Hong Kong, entitled “One Year After the Fukushima Nuclear Accident – the Way Forward with Safety and Risk Engineering.” (3/10/2012) This is a really fascinating and comprehensive look at the Fukushima disaster from the quality management perspective. I particularly like one of his slides about 60% of the way through the presentation that presents a 2×2 grid detailing probabilistic and deterministic approaches to the design that were intended to enhance plant safety. I really like this grid and will be thinking about ways to apply them to problems that I encounter in my job and my consulting (fortunately, none of which involve managing nuclear power plants).

On a lighter note, I also enjoyed “Coffee Shop Buzz is Good for Your Creativity” from Lifehacker. (3/6/2012) Have you ever thought that maybe the social pressure around you is what helps you get things done at the coffee shop? Hmmmm.

Oh, and we can’t forget St. Patrick’s Day! In preparation for the big weekend, Carly Barry at Minitab blogged about “The Odds of Finding a Four Leaf Clover” (3/16/2012). If you’ve ever struggled with odds ratios to compare the likelihood of two events, this article might give you the example to clear it up for good.

My newest “find” in the realm of quality and management improvement blogs is David Kanigan’s “Lead.Learn.Live” at davidkanigan.com. I so love the interconnected nature of blogs… a couple weeks ago, he “liked” something on my blog, and I decided to go check out his blog. And I really like his too! David intersperses original business-oriented posts with cited snippets of art and inspiration, and posts at least on a daily basis. Here are some of the most recent:

He calls attention to one of David Allen’s posts in “Gnawing Sense of Anxiety about Un-Captured Work” (3/10/2012) reiterates some of the themes I have been reading about in Baumeister’s excellent 2011 book on willpower. Apparently, our unconscious is totally restless when we have tasks on our to-do lists for which no plan exists to address. Once we set up a plan (e.g. “I’m going to schedule Saturday morning to download and look at that new data!”) our unconscious gets real happy, lets go of its silent panic, and we’re less overwhelmed and less distracted. Pretty cool!

In “The Process of Pivoting” (3/10/2012) David encourages us to move to a better feeling if we’re brought down by a problem, or a challenge, or some coworker’s crappy attitude at work. He doesn’t actually say any of those things, but you should be able to easily relate to the general scenario.

How can magical thinking be a solid tool for people who want to improve quality and performance – especially while managing teams? Find out in The Poison of Performance Appraisals (3/10/2012)… Deming would agree.

(And although this isn’t technically a blog, they do use a blogging infrastructure behind the scenes, so…) Hot off the presses we have “A Flash of Green Enhances Creativity” (3/20/2012)… did you know that temporary exposure to the color green can enhance inventiveness? Researchers reported in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that experiments were conducted where people were asked to solve problems surrounded by either green or red borders. It didn’t matter whether you were male, female, short, tall, or Australian… everyone was a better problem solver “in the green”. This also brings a new meaning to “Green Flash” 🙂

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??)

🙂

Nicole

How to Pass Your ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB) Exam

[IMPORTANT NOTE! As of April 20, 2015 I now have a NEW FAVORITE introductory statistics textbook… the one I’ve always dreamed of having, but it just never existed before. But today it does!! <3]

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

[Note: On October 4, 2012 I posted the notes I brought into the exam. You might want to check them out.]

* * * * * * * *

(Or more appropriately maybe… how I did it, and what I wish someone had blogged about before I sat for the exam! This is the chronicle of my CSSBB experience.)

I just took my ASQ Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB) exam… and PASSED! On the FIRST TRY!! (My reaction upon hearing the news was… “I am a statistics NINJA!!!” A very academic friend corrected me, and said no – not quite – the CSSBB is more like a learner’s permit for a PhD in statistics. OK, that’s cool too.)

My intent in this post is to share with you what I believe helped me get through this very daunting 150-question, 4-hour, heavy-on-the-math multiple choice exam. (Relevant superstitions and helpful snacks are described elsewhere.) This was a particular achievement for me, because although I had been doing small scale Six Sigma projects for several years, I originally intended to take the exam in the fall of 2008… and just didn’t get around to it. I had, at that time, recently completed a couple of doctoral level statistics courses and so I felt super powerfully capable at the time. But what inevitably happens is that as the days go by, and you don’t use the knowledge for practical problem solving, you get rusty and you forget.

Fast forward three years, to the fall of 2011.

When I took the plunge and signed up for one of the most recent offerings of the exam, I knew I had a lot of ground to re-cover before sitting to take the test. I knew I’d have to order some books or flashcards and spend a lot of quality time with them. I knew I’d have to refresh my memory on the nooks and crannies of all those statistical tests, especially the ones that are most frequently used in manufacturing situations. So my first step was to search Google to see if anyone had posted their personal experiences studying for – and hopefully succeeding with – the ASQ CSSBB exam.

I wanted to know: What resources helped? What resources didn’t help? What books were the most useful references to you as you were studying? Are the flashcards useful? I searched and searched all over the web, but couldn’t find any useful advice. I used search terms like “cssbb advice,” “how I passed my Six Sigma Black Belt exam,” “best resources for the Six Sigma Black Belt exam” and “best study guides for the Six Sigma Black Belt exam.” No luck. Everything led me back to companies trying to sell their training sessions. I didn’t want a training session… I wanted practical, free advice from someone who had been in my shoes not too much earlier than me.

So here it is! Feel free to post some comments if any of this advice is helpful, or if you want to add information about what you found useful when you were studying. (Remember, personal experiences with CSSBB prep are hard to find on the web, so anything you contribute is bound to be helpful to people who are actively preparing to be certified.)


#1 CSSBB Primer from the Quality Council of Indianahttp://www.qualitycouncil.com/cssbb_p.asp

BEST. Book. Ever. I ordered the CSSBB Primer as well as the CD with the practice exam questions, and although I was daunted by the sheer heft of the book, the large fonts make this reference a pleasure to get to know. It feels like someone is giving you all the essential knowledge you need for the exam, along with a cookie, a glass of milk, a hug, and a heartfelt “you can do it!!”

I read through the entire book, underlined definitions or phrases that I thought were important, and used post-it notes to tab topics that I thought I’d want easy access to during the exam.

Do ALL the questions in the blue part of the CSSBB Primer. It will take time… for me, it took about 3 weeks, working on about 10 to 20 questions a day. Understand not only what the right answer is for each question, but also WHY THE OTHER OPTIONS ARE WRONG. You won’t be able to take any of the blue pages into the exam with you, so make sure you take notes about the key facts, formulas, or techniques when you have “a-ha” moments doing the practice problems. YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT.

The real ASQ CSSBB exam is actually EASIER than the questions in the CSSBB Primer, but the question styles and formats are very similar. The reason that the real exam is easier is that there are a lot of questions in the Primer where at least two of the multiple choice options will tempt you into believing that they are both correct. The multiple choice options on the real exam seem to be much more distinct – that is, you’ll have an easier time distinguishing why the wrong ones are wrong.

I think the number one reason that I passed the exam was because of the time I spent on the practice exam questions in the CSSBB Primer. The practice questions on the CD were useful too, but I think the ones in the book were the most useful.


#2 (NEW) Statistics (The Easier Way) With R by Me (Nicole)

SECOND BEST BOOK EVER. Disclaimer: I am biased.

In 2014, I wrote the book that I wish had been written previously… to help people understand the fundamental statistical concepts that you NEED to know before the more advanced Six Sigma concepts. Although I did not take this book with me into my CSSBB exam in 2012, I did take the NOTES that became this book 🙂


#2 (OLD)  The Certified Six Sigma Black Belt Handbook, Second Edition by Kubiak & Benbow

This is the second book I took with me into the CSSBB exam.

This book has mixed reviews on Amazon because apparently the book made it into print with a bunch of calculation errors in it. I didn’t lean on the calculations in this book, though, because I had the CSSBB Primer for that – and as a result, I thought this book was a great reference. Some of the concepts aren’t covered in enough depth, e.g. TPM, but there were several problems on the real exam that I wanted to double check in the references before I shaded that scantron circle with my #2… and this was the book that helped out the most in that regard.


#3  An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Data Analysis by Ott & Longnecker

This was the third book I took with me into the CSSBB exam, and I think I needed it for 3 questions, 2 of which had to do with arcane aspects of DOE. However, it’s also the book that helped me get all my hypothesis testing straight, AND understand the assumptions for all of those tests.

I also LOVE LOVE LOVE this book, and think it should be a required book on the bookshelf of every Six Sigma aficionado out there.  I was first introduced to this awesome, awesome book as a student in STAT 451 at Penn State… an upper level applied stats class (which I believe is now STAT 460). In addition to providing great explanations of the concepts, Ott presents every statistical test as a recipe… what assumptions to check, how to set up the null and alternative hypotheses, how to calculate the test statistic, and how to interpret the calculated and critical values of the test statistic depending upon what alternative hypothesis you selected.

I have a hard time trying to remember whether your calculated test statistic has to be greater than or less than the critical value that you look up in a table… and this is the reference that helped me keep all those important details straight.

This book is expensive, but it’s worth it. If you can find an earlier version, these are usually much more affordable and JUST AS GOOD. Thank you, R. Lyman Ott, for making me love statistics, want to use statistical tests all the time, and want to teach college students how to do it too. You have been one of the most influential people in my life.


#4 Six Sigma for the Next Millennium: A CSSBB Guidebook by Kim Pries

I really tried to like this book, but it’s big, heavy, and there is a lot of whitespace on many of the pages (very unlike the CSSBB Primer). The amount of information per pound is relatively low. HOWEVER, I like the way it consolidates notes by topic with one topic per page. For example, there is one page with Deming’s 14 points. There’s one great page on Project Scope and another great page on Scope Containment Ideas. I’m definitely going to use some of the one-sheeters for teaching my statistics and quality classes.

Unfortunately, the book just didn’t help me as I was studying for the certification exam.


#5 The Six Sigma Handbook, Third Edition by Pyzdek & Keller

Great book but HARD TO FIND STUFF QUICKLY. I’d say read this before your exam instead of bedtime stories, take it with you when you lay on the beach, bring it to the coffee shop while you’re gently relaxing over synthesizing your Six Sigma knowledge into your blood and muscles. This is an excellent book for getting a deeper, more thoughtful understanding of Six Sigma related topics, but was not one I chose to bring into the exam with me.


#6 Statistics for Six Sigma Made Easy by Warren Brussee

This was the LEAST useful book to me for my exam prep (but it might just be as result of how my brain is wired). I find that whenever an author writes very conversationally, trying to simplify the concepts by writing long explanations of the topics (as if he or she were sitting there with you trying to explain them to you), it just confuses me. I need recipes, like what Ott provides in his book.

I can definitely see how this book might help you if you’re totally new to statistics, or if you’re starting off on the path to becoming a Six Sigma Green Belt, or if you just need someone to explain to you what in the world the meaning is behind these statistical tests.

However, IF YOU’RE CLOSE TO BECOMING A BLACK BELT, you should have a lot of this material under yours already. As a studying resource, Brussee’s book won’t be as useful to you.

Hope this helps! If you have any questions, please post them as comments below, and I will try to respond to all.

The Mature Entrepreneur

(This post is the result of a collaboration between Amy Shelton and Nicole Radziwill. Image Credit: Doug Buckley of Hyperactive Multimedia at http://www.hyperactive.to)

Up and coming young entrepreneurs in the U.S. are often the focus of articles because their success is the American dream. Start from nothing. End up with everything. But what happens when you aren’t starting from nothing? Maybe you are a 30+ professional that dreams of making a decent living doing what you love. You already have a career and maybe even a family too.  Now you’re ready to be your own boss and take a chance. You are the mature entrepreneur.

The struggling entrepreneur is often romanticized as living in a post-college frat house where co-founders scrape by on peanut butter and jelly, Ramen noodles, and sharing a house – creating a start-up commune of sorts – until they make it big. However, the 30+ entrepreneur probably has a family and, although the thought of working with their co-founders is inspirational and exciting, the thought of actually moving in with them is not. (We even know a few entrepreneurs who – gasp! – moved themselves and their families back in with mom and dad for a while to save money while working on their start-up.) Rather than making it big, the mature entrepreneur is probably more focused on applying his or her life experiences and expertise to earn a decent living doing what she loves.

There was an interesting thread on Hacker News recently where a woman was asking advice from fellow hackers who work from home and have kids. The conversation thread was very long and is still active, talking about the practical concerns of pursuing entrepreneurship while fulfilling family obligations, and finding balance between work and life. According to Wikipedia, the average age of marriage today is 28.4 years for men, and 26.5 years for women. The average age of first time mothers was 25 in 2006. So anyone interested in entrepreneurship post-30 is probably married and probably has children. This adds a huge layer of complexity to planning any business, especially since the mature entrepreneur is often taking a big financial risk that could easily impact his or her family.

In addition to financial risk, there is also an emotional risk associated with being an entrepreneur who’s starting a new venture. First, it’s very easy to become a workaholic. You might be holding a regular full-time job while chasing your passions and making your new ideas real at nights and on weekends. Conversely, it’s very easy to become a “lifeaholic.” That might seem strange, but when you’re pursuing your true interests, it might seem like you’re not working at all. Most of you might say “Hey! That’s great! That’s exactly what I want!” But there can be a deep sense of dissatisfaction associated with being able to make your own schedule and call your own shots, especially in the early stages of a venture before your ideas really take off and start to pay off. You can spend as much time as you want with your kids… with your spouse.. you might ask yourself “Am I really working hard enough?” The mature entrepreneur will devise a means to continually self-assess to achieve a happy medium between being a workaholic and a lifeaholic, recognizing that it’s easy to fall on either end of the spectrum.

The best part about being a mature entrepreneur (whether you’re living with your partners, your parents, or your own nuclear family) is that, like we said before, you aren’t starting from nothing. You have plenty of experience behind you, and whether your venture succeeds or fails, you know that it will be a valuable learning experience. You also have a network of people around you who will support you and share in the victory when you make it big, or be there to console you when you fold.

Most importantly, you aren’t starting without the awareness that the ultimate goal is to become a passionate workalifeaholic (or lifeaworkaholic) who can realize new ideas with ease!

Is Profit Waste?

(This post is bound to be controversial – so please, if you have an opinion, write a comment. I’m really interested in hearing what others think and feel about this concept.)

Last week, I read the Harvard Business Review’s 2011 Agenda, in which HBR reported on what projects key business and management leaders will be working on during the upcoming year. I was directed to the report by a Facebook post from Daniel Pink, author of Drive, who was a contributor. One of the subjects he touched on really moved me:

I wonder if we have reached the limits of the profit motive. It is a powerful force, of course, but perhaps it’s somehow inadequate and insufficiently inspiring for 21st century work. More and more we’re seeing that the most enduring and effective companies marry the profit motive to what we might think of as the “purpose motive”—the belief that businesses must stand for something and contribute to the world. Maybe the path out of our economic doldrums is not a tighter focus on profits, processes, or productivity but the broader awakening of a sense of purpose in our enterprises.

As someone who ponders quality and “lean thinking” all the time, this really got the little voice in my head going: Is profit waste? When we’re thinking about waste in the “traditional lean sense,” overproduction is the first sin. Isn’t profit just overproduction of revenue? Sure, but you might argue, it’s profit that helps a business expand and grow. That’s true, IF that profit is turned into investments or retained earnings that become future investments. (But how much of a company’s profit is turned into lottery-sized bonuses to executives who then pursue a personal life of overconsumption? How much of a company’s profit is the direct result of using wasteful ingredients in production, such as using packaging that clutters landfills for years? Doesn’t this equate the profit that’s generated with the waste that’s generated?)

This made me wonder whether other people have questioned whether profit is waste. I did a Google search and came up with very little… but did find two hits of interest. The first is an old article from Volume 36 of The Arena, a critical journal published from 1889-1896 and 1900-1909 and edited by a guy named Benjamin Orange Flower. It was recognized as audacious and unorthodox, and upon its demise The Arena was declared a “fearless exponent of advanced liberal thought” – so apparently, people were a little taken aback by the social mission and tone of the publication at that time as well.  The second was a blog post on the writings of the philosopher Bataille from the 1960’s, who believed that “…a series of profitable operations has absolutely no other effect that the squandering of profits” and “the fate of all profit is waste” – that is, that profit is waste.

In the Arena article, entitled “Consumption of Wealth: Individual and Collective” by C. C. Hitchcock, the author starts his article by loosely addressing the disparity of wealth in society first noted by the Italian engineer, sociologist, economist and philosopher Vilfredo Pareto, and then starts making connections with the income production of typical families of the early 20th century. He asserts that it is the profit motive in capitalism that’s responsible for the laborer (who creates value and wealth on a daily basis) earning little to nothing, while “by others who may produce nothing we see wealth approximated in sums running up into millions in a single year.”

What is Hitchcock’s solution to the inequality? He says if you want to consume more, you should create value in proportion to the level you wish to consume. Executives of multi-billion-dollar companies might argue that indeed, they are creating value for millions of people, and doesn’t that justify the consumption? At the end of his article, Hitchcock concedes that his whole argument is in place to support socialism, so that “burdened souls” can benefit from “added courage and strength to bear patiently the deprivations and disappointments of life.”

This sounds pretty incongruent with the rest of his argument to me. I tend to like the idea of socialism as a utopian concept, and completely dislike it when I think about all the able-bodied lazy people sitting around getting handouts without lifting a finger. (I know some of these people personally.)

What is Bataille’s solution to the inequality? He says that productivity itself is perhaps a myth. So what? Why pursue productivity when its end goal is just waste? His writings seem to suggest that finding meaning and enjoyment in life is superior to achieving productivity.

If that’s the case, I might stop Getting Things Done (GTD) and start Getting to Meaning (GTM). That last acronym is mine, people! 🙂

What sorts of next generation business models could we come up with if we looked at profit the same way we look at inventory holding costs, or waiting, or excessive motion in a process, or defects? Furthermore, is there a cost of profit? (I don’t know what this last question might even mean, but I’ll be thinking about it more and more in the upcoming weeks.)

Why do our business metrics STOP at profit? Why don’t we track where the profit goes, and what it’s spent on, and whether that spending generates any true value? Follow the money… that’s the only way we will be able to test whether profit is indeed waste.