Navel-gazing primate –


Value individuality
October 27, 2013, 3:24 pm
Filed under: Quality of Life

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that are based on some writing I did a long time ago and a lot of thinking I have done since. Previous posts in this series are linked at the end of this post.

Chapter three

Value Individuality

Point 6: Institute training on the job.

Point 12: Remove barriers that rob workers of their right to pride of workmanship. This means abolishment of the annual review or merit rating.

Point 13:  Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.

 –W. Edwards Deming

“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession.”

 –Ralph Waldo Emerson

 ————-

The recognition that every employee is an individual, and deeply appreciating their individuality, underlies several of Deming’s fourteen points. Cultivating and celebrating our own individuality is vital to improving our own quality of life. Deming’s teachings on quality improvement have two lessons applicable to this:

  1. Avoid rankings and downplay the importance of competition.
  2. Pursue training, education, and “self-improvement.”

Hugh Prather writes in his book Notes to Myself: “There is no such thing as best in a world of individuals.”

Deming strongly disagreed with the predilection of our society, and businesses, to rate people. Rating systems are ubiquitous in our lives–grades in school, Nielsen ratings of television shows, scoring in athletic events, and, for many of us, merit ratings in job performance evaluations. It is difficult in this milieu not to compare ourselves to others, and, more often than not, feel we come up short in some way. It hardly occurs to us that we each have our own gifts, most of which cannot be graded or scored or awarded with prizes.

Associated with the idea of ranking is the concept of competition. Competitive activities result in one person or team or business being rated as better than another. These activities can devalue the qualities that make us unique individuals. On the other hand, a cooperative activity calls on and develops our unique gifts, and results in all participants being “better” afterwards than before.

So, first, avoid ranking, comparison, and their close colleague, competition. The second aspect of valuing individuality that Deming encouraged was education, training, and “self-improvement.” He emphasized that training go beyond just what was necessary for the job at hand. “What an organization needs is not just good people; it needs people that are improving with education.” [1]

As I explore how to “improve myself,” I find it helpful to have a metaphor – a story – to guide me. Having become a devotee of the legends of King Arthur since seeing the film Excalibur in 1981, I find in those legends, with the help of Joseph Campbell and others, some good guidance.

One of the stories of the Arthurian saga is the Grail quest.

“[T]he Grail represents the fulfillment of the highest potentialities of the human consciousness. . . .  [It] becomes symbolic of an authentic life lived in terms of its own volition, its own impulse system which carries it between the pairs of opposites of good and evil, light and dark.”[2]

In the story, Arthur proposes that his knights go on a quest for the Grail. Campbell then quotes his own translation of an Old French text as follows: “They agreed that all would go on this quest, but they thought it would be a disgrace to go forth in a group, so each entered the forest at a point that he, himself, had chosen, where it was darkest and there was no path.”[3]

In other words, you must find your own path in the adventure of discovering where your authentic life is.

We can each look at the progress of our life as a quest through a symbolic forest in which the Grail – our authentic life – is hidden. Our path through life may seem to take us through brambles and mud. Yet hidden (or probably not so hidden) in our depth is a grand vision, a shining Grail.  You catch glimpses of the Grail, yet each time you may look away with thoughts of “I’ll never make money that way” or “I couldn’t do that.” The Grail beckons you to live your own authentic life, yet you’re mired in brambles just a few steps away.

Acknowledge the Grail – that vision – for what it is. It is you! Celebrate it, marvel at it, and know that it is within you to drink from the Grail, to live your authentic life. It is the only way to live your life.

The major step is to gather the courage to reach for the Grail, to get out of the brambles. Wading through brambles and mud to find your authentic life is not easy. Many people never do it – it’s easier in the short term to stay put than to get out of the brambles.

Yet that Cup of Life is close by.  Find it and reach for the Grail!

[1]W. Edwards Deming, from Out of the crisis, p. 86.

[2]Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth series of interviews with Bill Moyers.  This quote is from the ‘Sacrifice and Bliss’ segment.

[3]Joseph Campbell, from Transformations of Myth Through Time, p. 211.

Previous posts in this series:

Quality of Life – Introduction

Quality of Life – Chapter One – The System

Quality of Life – Chapter Two – On Purpose




On Purpose
September 20, 2013, 8:26 pm
Filed under: Quality of Life

This is the third in a series of blog posts that are based on some writing I did in the early 1990′s and a lot of thinking I have done since. Previous posts in this series are linked at the end of this post.

Chapter two

On Purpose

Point 1.  Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.

Point 11.  Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor.  Eliminate management by objectives.  Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals.  Substitute leadership.”

–W. Edwards Deming

Deming chose “create constancy of purpose” as the first of his Fourteen Points Toward the Transformation of Management, and the lack of a purpose was the first of the “deadly diseases of management.” This is how central it was, in Deming’s view, for an organization to have a purpose.

Having a purpose is also an important element of a human life.  As our society has developed to allow more individual expression–young men are no longer relegated to follow in their father’s footsteps, nor are young women restricted to marriage and children–the notion that our lives fulfill some purpose nags at us now more perhaps than in the past. In Deming’s view, a suitable purpose for a business was “to improve the standard of living of mankind.”  This example illustrates two qualities of a purpose.  First, a purpose is not an objective so much as a direction.  Secondly, it has a basis of service to others. (more…)



It’s all one System
September 11, 2013, 8:43 pm
Filed under: Quality of Life

This is the second in a series of blog posts that are based on some writing I did in the late-1980′s and a lot of thinking I have done since. Click here to read the first post.

Chapter One – The System

DemingSystem

W. Edwards Deming was among the first prominent systems thinkers in the US. As shown in the illustration above from page 4 of his book Out of the Crisis, Deming instructed managers to include every aspect of manufacture when they strive to improve the quality of their product.  Deming was specifically battling the pervasive notion that defects resulted from poor workmanship, that is, the poor performance of individual workers.  Deming made the point that, in fact, quality depends on the tools and equipment, raw material, plant layout and other factors, all of which are management’s responsibility and none of which are under the control of individual laborers.  Moreover, Deming urged managers to work closely with workers, suppliers, customers, and competitors to encourage innovation, productivity, and higher quality.

Before exploring Deming’s ideas further, we need to think about what the components of “the system” of our personal lives might be.

The starting place is to identify a product. I will hazard a guess that most people, if asked the (somewhat bizarre) question, “What, in your life, would you regard as ‘your product’?” would respond with something about their work or their career. I disagree. I believe that

our products are our personal relationships.

Using this metaphor, we create new products or build on existing products each day. Most of us also have a huge range of product—everything from a committed spousal relationship to the relationship we have with the friendly cashier at the neighborhood store, from a parent-child relationship to the relationships we create when we nod or smile at someone we pass on the sidewalk.

For those of us who lack the inventiveness or genius of Edison or Einstein, our only enduring legacy will likely be the quality of our relationships.  Deming’s approach to improving the quality of manufacturing can, with some adaptation, provide excellent guidance on how to improve the quality of our relationships.

From Deming’s flow chart above, we can identify the components of the manufacturing system and find the counterparts in our own lives:  management and labor, customers, suppliers, competitors, tools and equipment, raw materials, design and redesign.  In pursuing this analogy, I hesitate to identify and segregate aspects of ourselves that are, in fact, not separable, but I feel there is value in doing so in this introductory phase. (more…)



Quality of Life – introduction
September 7, 2013, 2:23 pm
Filed under: Quality of Life

This is the first in a series of blog posts that are based on some writing I did in the late-1980′s and a lot of thinking I’ve done since. 

The principles of W. Edwards Deming, developed to help transform the management of a manufacturing business, adapt remarkably easily to help transform the management of our lives.  In this post, I present a brief history of Deming’s work and a broad outline of his basic principles.

Dr. Deming pioneered the idea of setting product or service quality as the top priority for any business.  He developed guidelines to help a business continually improve the quality of its products or services.

During the early 1940s, W. Edwards Deming’s Ph.D. research focused on finding how to quantitatively measure and improve product quality.  He and his mentor, Walter Shewhart, devised a means of determining whether fluctuations in any process of manufacture were due to random variation or systematic problems.  This is important to know because random variation cannot be avoided whereas systematic variation indicates a problem that can be identified and rectified.  The result of their work was “statistical process control” and is still widely used in many industries.

Under sponsorship of the War Department during World War II, Deming introduced these ideas to manufacturers of military equipment.  It had become imperative to improve the quality of some items because American soldiers were being killed due to defective equipment.

Deming’s most notable success occurred after he was invited to Japan in the early 1950s.  Deming instructed engineers and managers from some of Japan’s struggling companies in his philosophy of business and the nuts and bolts of statistical process control.  He predicted that, if they followed his guidance, the quality of their products would be the envy of the world in five years.

It came to pass in four years.

Meanwhile American companies, driven by a prosperous marketplace, shifted their focus from quality to rate of production.  It was no longer imperative that products be of high quality; there must be many of them to satisfy the high demand of prospering America.  Deming’s ideas were forsaken and replaced by emphases on production quotas and rosy financial goals.

Not until his later years, when Japanese automobiles were making serious inroads into the American automobile market, was Deming again called upon to train executives in American industries.

After many years of instructing engineers and managers in the use of process control, Deming formulated Fourteen Points for the Transformation of Management.  These Points were the basis of his quality philosophy and he urged that all members of a transforming organization, from the CEO to the night custodian, needed to understand and live the Fourteen Points.

Deming always felt that workers always do their best.  Specifically he felt that the usual assumption of management that defects in production were due to ineptitude on the part of workers was erroneous.  Defects are caused not by individuals, but by problems in “the system” in Deming’s view.

Deming learned and taught that a company’s complete approach to business had to change if the quality of the company’s product or service was to improve.  He knew for this systemic change to occur, the top levels of management must be trained to think in new ways:

  • All aspects of the company—production, sales, engineering, design—plus the suppliers, competitors and customers must be viewed as an integrated whole.  Deming’s term was the system.  It is this system that must be the focus of management as they assess how best to improve the product rather than blaming a few individuals.
  • Statistical process control is a valuable mechanism that can help identify what processes in the system need adjustment.
  • Operating a business by focusing on quotas (sales quotas or production quotas, for example) results in poor workmanship or dishonesty on the part of employees to meet the quotas.  By focusing instead on providing each individual in the company with high-quality tools and materials as well as premier instruction (not only for their jobs, but for their lives), quality of the product improves and customer loyalty results.
  • Improving product quality produces a chain reaction:  better quality results in lower costs and higher productivity which lowers prices which increases customer loyalty and market share which allows the company to expand and provide more jobs.
  • Rather than compete for a niche in a limited market, cooperation with “competitors” can lead to innovations which in turn expands the market for both (or all) companies.
  • Management through fear and intimidation not only discourages employees but also is often damaging to the company. If workers are threatened with “consequences” if quotas aren’t met, for example, then to “meet quotas,” numbers may be fudged or incomplete or faulty products may be shipped.  Management may be satisfied, but customers won’t be. Deming advised companies to “drive out fear” in all its forms.
  • Working with a single supplier for each item necessary for production improves the quality of the product and can also stimulate innovation.  This is contrary to two common practices regarding vendors—awarding contracts to the lowest bidder and second-sourcing.  (Second-sourcing is identifying standby vendors and obtaining material from them if the first source has some problem.)  Often the material from a second source (or the lowest bidder this year) differs from the regular material and the end product is of lower quality.  Once poor-quality product is on the market it is difficult to recover a reputation of producing quality.
  • A business should have a purpose that gives them focus through difficult economic times.  Quarterly dividends and annual reports pale in comparison to the pursuit of a worthy purpose.
  • Including customers and suppliers in the design of new products expands possibilities and can open new markets.  It also enhances customer loyalty.

Deming was adamant that his philosophy could not be administered in a piecemeal fashion, but must be embraced fully to be effective.  Nonetheless many companies use statistical process control or a few other elements of his teachings without incorporating the fundamentals.

The fundamentals of his philosophy have proven undeniably successful in achieving product quality and long-term financial stability.  With adaptations described in subsequent chapters, those same principles can bring improved quality to our personal lives.

Deming’s Fourteen Points for the Transformation of Management can be distilled down to seven principles that can be applied to our personal lives.  We will examine one of those principles in each of the next several blog posts.



On Courage
August 30, 2013, 7:42 pm
Filed under: Speaking Up

In December 1999, I got one of those calls from my doctor – “there’s something on your mammogram. You need to see a surgeon…”

In the single-digit-dates of January 2000, I had two outpatient surgeries to remove all of the bits that were later identified as ductal carcinoma in situ. In early April I finished six weeks of daily radiation treatments.

Throughout this experience, I learned as much as I could about dcis, questioned the doctors, confronted the technicians (on one necessary occasion), continued to work nearly every day, felt weak and tired, and, eventually, healed in a lot of ways. During those months, I acted in ways that were often outside of my previous pattern of behavior. Prior to this experience, I and others viewed me as a timid wallflower who was “painfully shy.”

In early 2000, I discovered that I am courageous.

Since then, I’ve done a few things that some people think “took great courage,” and maybe some day I’ll write about some of them. But this post is mostly sliding into an introduction of the next few posts I’m planning.

Sometime in the mid- to late-1990s, I learned about a man named W. Edwards Deming from a PBS biographical piece. Then I learned more about his work. Then, based on some of his approaches and philosophy, I wrote a manuscript for a book. I submitted it to a few publishers and was not surprised when they turned me down. I had no credentials, just what I thought were some good ideas. Coming up with some good ideas was not enough to get published in the mid- to late-1990s.

A week or two ago, I saw the 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts by Neil Gaiman that I’ve posted below. Gaiman  invites each of us to do what only we can do. Later, he says, “the rules, the assumptions, the now-we’re-supposed-tos of how you get your work seen and what you do then – they’re breaking down. The gatekeepers are leaving their gates.”

Between seeing this speech, and feeling courageous lately, I’ve decided to start posting chapters from my manuscript. It’s called “Quality of Life.” Coming soon to this bit of web-land…



Just Dance
August 29, 2013, 12:06 pm
Filed under: Dance,Losing purpose

Some months ago, spontaneously, I posted on facebook that my new motto is “Just Dance.” At the time I was thinking that “I don’t get enough exercise, I don’t have much ‘fun’ in my life, I’m just a blob who sits in a chair.” The phrase “Just Dance” – get out of the chair and move – was the reply from my inner wisdom.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about what, exactly, it could mean to “Just Dance.”

While I have occasionally performed as “a dancer” (I feel it’s presumptuous of me to apply that title to myself), what I really mean by dancing is to simply move spontaneously to music, doing so with attention, but not consciously. In this mode, even if I’m dancing to music I have not heard before, my awareness anticipates rhythm changes, flourishes, and other aspects of the music that can be responded to, or, better, embodied by a danced move.

In the last few days I’ve been thinking about how I might apply that mindset – with attention, but not with a conscious-driven carefulness – to other things I do. I think I might be on to something.



The value of knitting – and of women
April 10, 2013, 9:45 pm
Filed under: Speaking Up,Yarn and knitting

I have been knitting regularly for close to 25 years. I cherish the time I spend knitting, and have in the last several years developed sufficient skill to create a garment of my own design that fits. And I even like wearing a couple of the garments that I have designed and knit.

Still, I can’t honestly say that I have felt proud of my knitting skills. Over my lifetime, I have spent more time knitting than I have spent in any other activity (probably) besides sleeping. But when people ask what I do, I say I work in a library. Or when asked what my skills are, I say problem-solving or mathematics. And then I’m only too eager to point out that my bachelor’s degree is in Physics.

cropped-OgeeLace.jpg

Ogee Lace – pattern from Mary Thomas. Knit by the blogger.

Because knitting isn’t worthy of basing my identity on.

Our society as a whole does not value the craft of hand-knitting (though knitting is at a relatively high point in its cycle of esteem right now). Most people think a nice sweater is one from L. L. Bean that costs, at most, $60. Occasionally, when something I’ve made has come out well, acquaintances will suggest that I should “make those and sell them.” Then I tell them it took over 100 hours to knit, and to get as much as $10 per hour, that would mean $1,000.  They understand pretty quickly why I don’t sell my knitting. And I rarely give it away, either.

It happens that some fabrics created through hand-knitting can be simulated by an automated process. Likewise, some structures created through hand carpentry can be simulated by automated processes. But not everything that can be hand-knit can be automated, and neither can everything a carpenter can do. However, our society values the work that only a human carpenter can do – many of them make a decent living. I don’t think anyone can make a living by just knitting. And very few in the world earn an independent income from designing and selling patterns and so forth.

Off and on over the last several years, I have pondered about this and tried not to jump to the conclusion that this disparity exists because primarily men do carpentry and primarily women do knitting. I think that is an unjust conclusion for this particular comparison. But I have come to the conclusion that knitting is not really valued, at least to some degree and perhaps to a large degree, because women are not really valued.

A couple of weeks ago, oral arguments were heard at the US Supreme Court regarding two cases. The decisions in those cases could equalize marriage rights between heterosexual and homosexual couples. That will be a great day. But over those two weeks I have been nagged by the memory that our nation failed to grant women equal constitutional rights in the mid-1970s, and there have not been any significant attempts since to codify the equality of women.

In our nation, phrases like these in our Constitution -

No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected … (Article I, Section 6)

[Regarding qualifications of Senators] … be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen. (Article I, Section 3)

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office … (Article II, Section 1)

make more than half the population of the country cringe with a feeling of exclusion and unworthiness. At least they have that impact on me. Women have been elected to all but one of the offices that the language of the Constitution seems to exclude us from, yet that language has not been rectified by a constitutional amendment. Apparently, it’s just not important. After all, it only impacts women.

I said above that I can’t honestly say I’ve been proud of my knitting skills. I also can’t honestly say that I have been proud to be a woman. Well, I am now officially coming out – as a proud woman and a proud knitter. Look out, world!



Reality testing
July 22, 2011, 9:54 am
Filed under: Losing purpose

Thanks to google reader and a couple of blogs I follow, the following two items (and all they represent) are creating deep cognitive dissonance within me:

The internet in 2015 (which, being entirely graphic in nature, needs to be seen)
and
Galactic-Scale Energy: “This post provides a striking example of the impossibility of continued growth at current rates—even within familiar timescales.”

I have to say that I place far more stock in the latter than in the former. There will probably be an internet in 2015 (a mere four years away), but much beyond that, I seriously doubt. Yet, in the past several months, we moved thousands of bound volumes of periodicals out of the library because the same content is, right now and perhaps for the foreseeable future, available much more conveniently through the trusted journal archive, JSTOR. It was my job to identify and verify the volumes that could be recycled. Each moment of the several weeks I worked on that, I doubted the very-long-term wisdom of doing so. Yet at the same time, I could understand that in the age past the internet, the likelihood that there will be students and faculty needing to use the kind of information that is epitomized in German studies review or Dante studies is remote.



Inspiration
March 11, 2010, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Dance,Losing purpose

There are a number of good things about getting older. The first thing that comes to mind is getting to a point at which you really don’t care much (at least not compared to how much you cared decades ago) about what other people think about you. Once you comprehend, in a visceral way, your own mortality, it becomes much easier, even necessary, to express yourself as you see fit with little regard to what others may think.

And so, a few years ago, I got the courage to start practicing Middle Eastern dance, often unfairly called belly-dance. It is challenging, beautiful (when done well), and my favorite part – it has lots of sparkly bits!

There is a worldwide community of belly-dancers, and several styles – “cabaret” (the stereotypical belly-dance style that most Americans probably think of when they hear the word belly-dance), tribal (in its purest form a group improvisation in which a ‘leader’ uses subtle cues of hand and arm movements that the other dancers ‘follow’), and fusions of traditional Middle Eastern dance movements with multiple dance styles, including flamenco, samba, tango, Polynesian, ballet, modern dance, and others.

I admire a large number of well-known (in the belly-dance community) dancers – Heather Stants, Tamalyn Dallal, Amar Gamal, Sharon Kihara are a few – but if I’m asked to pick a favorite, my choice is easy. Her name is Mira Betz and her style is her own. Her dancing is stunningly beautiful, except for when it’s charmingly humorous. More importantly, she is an excellent teacher and feels her most important duty as a teacher is to encourage students to develop their own unique style, as she has done, not just in dance but throughout life.

Mira Betz will be teaching at a week-long retreat near a beach in Mexico in November 2010. I would love to go, but our family’s financial situation will need to improve somewhat before that’s possible. I also need to get serious again about belly-dance to justify it. (There’s time; it could happen.) In promoting that event, the organizers put together this mashup of Mira’s dancing. This is what inspires me:



What is the meaning of life? (part two)
February 11, 2010, 11:30 am
Filed under: Losing purpose

(This is continued from a previous post.)

The first inkling I remember that maybe ‘having a purpose’ may not be the be-all, end-all of a human’s life came a year or so ago while I was reading James Lovelock’s book, Gaia.

First some background. I have a handful of guiding principles that inform my beliefs and values. One of the strongest is that humans are not fundamentally different from animals – we evolved on the same planet from the same materials under the same processes. Therefore, we cannot be the only ones who have emotions, or the only ones who have a soul, or the only ones who … .

Using this principle, I have filtered out of my life a variety of religious traditions, authors, philosophical works and other things. But for some reason, the notion that my life needed a purpose persisted; it just didn’t register that by requiring my life to fulfill some purpose I was maintaining an instance of human exceptionalism.

Then I read Gaia. For whatever reason, while reading Lovelock’s thorough description of how complex chemical interactions of atmospheric gases, microbes, and more have resulted in a biosphere that appears to be unique in the solar system, I realized that it is arrogant of me to conceive that I might have a ‘purpose.’ And now that I’m attempting to recall and record my thought processes, I see an inherent paradox that I came to view my ‘need’ for a purpose as arrogant as I was simultaneously understanding that ‘mere microbes’ make life on this planet possible through their metabolic processes alone, not through any conscious pursuit of purpose on their part.

I was confronting my arrogance and starting to loosen my grip on the need to fulfill a purpose in life when I found out about Mark Rowlands’ book, The philosopher and the wolf. (I’m going to abbreviate this title as PAW.)

I first read a library copy of PAW in early December – I read it cover to cover in two or three days. I found it so thought-provoking I knew I would want to read it repeatedly, so I asked “Santa” for a copy for Christmas. Santa delivered. It sat on my nightstand for several weeks. I wanted to make sure I had time to leisurely make my way through it and cogitate on it thoroughly, or so I told myself.

A few days ago, I picked it up and started reading it again and realized the real reason I had delayed reading it a second time. It’s difficult to read. But the difficulty isn’t the usual failing of the author to organize his thoughts coherently, or the tendency of academics to use language and sentence structures that seek to impress rather than inform.

It’s difficult because it’s a deeply emotional story.
It’s difficult because, as Rowlands says, “it took me a long time to think these thoughts” and even though his thoughts are clearly elucidated, it takes this reader a long time to “think” the thoughts he has presented.
And finally, it’s especially difficult because in telling the story of what his wolf brother, Brenin, taught him, Rowlands presents to the reader the disturbing truth about what does make humans exceptional. It’s undeniable, and it ain’t pretty.

So, I am now reading PAW again, this time taking more time to absorb the sentences and paragraphs. Rowlands studied academic philosophy for years so I don’t have to, and he has carefully chosen and placed concepts from classical through contemporary philosophers to make a tapestry woven of vivid images of his days with Brenin, embellished with threads of profound meaning.

A concept I learned from Rowlands that is pertinent to my main point here is from medieval philosophers: sub specie aeternitatis – under the gaze of eternity. Under the gaze of eternity, for instance, humans are little more than a bump and I am a tiny speck. There is a lot to explore in this concept. The first thought that probably came to my mind is the depressing notion that my life is inconsequential.

However, the main impact this concept has had on me is a complete release of pressure to achieve and make something of my life.

I have finally let go of the need to fulfill a purpose.




Sites DOT Middlebury: the Middlebury site network.