I am the proud owner/friend of a one year old 75 pound golden retriever named Landry, affectionately named after the former and well-respected coach of the Dallas Cowboys football team, Tom Landry (my wife is an avid Cowboy fan!). On a recent walk, I unexpectedly gained an insight from Landry about myself connected to the principles and practices of leadership.
Let me preface my new learning by sharing that while I have always known it, given my 22 years in school leadership positions, it continues to become clearer and clearer to me that quality leadership is perhaps the highest leverage “strategy” in any organization that must be in place for improvement to occur. An effective leader is needed to help develop, articulate, and operationalize the vision of any organizational system and to help the “parts” to work together, in a coordinated fashion, in order to achieve the aim. Continual improvement, or quality, according to Dr. W. Edwards Deming, “begins in the boardroom.” In other words, continual improvement initially lies in the hands of leaders and without steadfast commitment from leaders, organizational improvement and learning are not likely to occur. With regard to education, it should never be overlooked that in addition to a district’s “formal” leaders, the teacher is the leader of the classroom system.
About three weeks ago I was on a walk with Landry and my wife. As we neared the end of our walk we emerged from a wooded pathway and onto the sidewalk of a fairly busy street in our neighborhood. As cars, moving in the same direction we were walking, drove past us Landry lunged towards the street in an effort to chase them. Attempting to chase after cars is not a new phenomenon for Landry and neither was the force I needed to apply to keep him from separating my shoulder. Since he first joined us on walks, Landry has demonstrated a strong inclination to chase…rabbits, squirrels, deer, cars…you name it. If it moves, he chases it! While I love his spirit and energy, I must admit I can at times get tired of constantly anticipating when the next chase will ensue, for not only does it grow irritating, but the health of my arm is at stake! In hopes of better understanding and possibly minimizing his chasing without impeding his youthful energy, I began conducting some research (aka “Googling”) to learn more.
“Predatory chase reflex,” also known as “prey drive” is the “instinctive inclination of a carnivore to find, pursue and capture prey” (Source: Wikipedia). Levels of this “prey drive” or “predatory chase reflex” vary from breed to breed and from dog to dog. Landry, as it turns out, is teeming with this drive, much more so than our previous goldens. In short, “chasing” is part of his nature, perhaps even his biology, even though the vast majority of the time (well, actually all the time) he comes up empty-handed (or empty “pawed”), so to speak. Despite his lack of success, he persists (I wonder if this means he possesses a growth mindset!).
As Landry attempted to chase cars during that walk, I was struck with a new insight. During my experiences as a school leader, I have exhibited the very same “chase reflex” as Landry. In my most sincere and well-intentioned desire and efforts to improve learning for the students at the schools and district I led, I chased multiple initiatives. The problem was, much akin to Landry, I chased one initiative for a little while and then another, and then another. As I reflect back, the vast majority of these chases did not result in any significant, lasting improvements in the organizations I led. They were exciting and fun for a while, but when I didn’t see immediate results, off I went in another direction. Had Yoda been mentoring me he likely would have commented (cue the Yoda voice), “The chase reflex is strong in this one.”
I do not believe I am the only leader who suffered or suffers from the “Landry Principle,” as I now refer to it. It describes the tendency of leaders, with the very best of intentions, to chase “shiny baubles;” the “soup de jour” of programs/initiatives advertised to guarantee improved student learning results. However, we know all too well where these initiatives lead and the impact they have on our budgets, and more importantly, our people. For people, there is a cascading psychological effect. As a result of chasing one new idea and then another and another, initiative fatigue sets in – like the fatigue that my arm and shoulder feel as a result of Landry’s constant chasing and pulling – ultimately leading to cynicism (sometimes I dread my walks with Landry because of the constant chasing). In order to protect themselves, people adopt the “this too shall pass” mentality – an emotional wall, so to speak – for it serves as a method for people to protect themselves psychologically and keep some sense of predictability and control in their work; two factors Stanford neuroscientist Dr. Robert Sapolsky cites as the foremost contributors to stress. As far as the budget is concerned, I cringe when I think of the money that may have been wasted with each “new fad,” that was pursued as we fell prey to the Landry Principle.
Chasing new ideas as educators is indeed understandable and perhaps even rational, for amidst the external demands and the many challenges and subsequent frustrations that exist in educating children, sometimes it just feels like we should be doing something…anything. Alas, longitudinal results over time (as demonstrated through the use of control charts) typically show little, if any improvements as a result of these “quick fix” schemes.
Truth be told, during my final school leadership position, five years as superintendent of the Urbandale Community School District, I gained control of my “chase reflex” as a result of my interaction with Dr. Deming’s work and my desire to fundamentally improve the system I led. I am happy to say that armed with new learning, new knowledge, and new methods we began the transformation of our system, achieving for two consecutive years (my last two) the highest levels of student achievement in 17 years, as measured by the percentage of students reaching levels of proficiency and above. The district, I am pleased to say, continues on with this work, improving all aspects of its performance.
Finally, I asked our veterinarian about Landry’s “chase reflex” and how long I might expect it to last. He indicated that while it may settle down a bit once he is through his “puppy phase” (2-3 years), it will likely always be a part of him. I can live with the chase reflex in my dog, for despite my complaining it’s actually one of the many things I like about him. However, as I reflect on the Landry Principle and how it might manifest itself in the work of leaders, it becomes a less lovable attribute and one with significant systemic ramifications, relative to the performance and psychological health of schools and other organizations. I wonder which of Dr. Deming’s “14 Points for Management” are being violated as a result of the Landry Principle, and what remedies might exist as a counter. While I have my own thoughts about it, I want to invite readers to consider the question and offer their own thoughts.
This webcast shows Steve Haedrich’s presentation, The System of Profound Knowledge Applied to Sales and Marketing, at the 2015 Deming Research Seminar. Steve is the President of New York Label & Box Works.
Steve discussed the importance of understanding the strengths of your organization and remembering that more sales is not the aim but more sales that fit within your organization as a system. Getting more sales that don’t fit your strengths can weaken your company as the negative interactions disrupt the rest of your organization.
He also emphasized the importance of explaining the possibilities of innovation to their clients. In New York Label & Box Works case they are in a position where they are selling to companies that will use New York Label products in their own products sold to end users. So New York Label has to be able to show the value of innovative solutions to the consumers. He talks about innovation being driven by the producer, not the consumer.
New York Label & Box Works doesn’t pay commissions on sales. They pay sales people, and everyone else, fairly, and get everyone focused on doing the best work for the organization overall instead of focusing on commissions. They have a profit sharing plan for all employees.
When your project shows signs of trouble, go basic first.
It was Benjamin Franklin and not 70’s musician Todd Rundgren who first admonished us to pay attention to the basics or be willing to accept unpleasant consequences.
“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”
Are you singing yet?
“HOWs” and nails have something in common: they’re pointed and effective for building strong foundations.
Much of my work focuses on involving people in activities and decisions about their work and how it will change as the technology they use changes. Having been a consultant/leader with a Big 4 firm, my project experience is extensive and varied. Project work sometimes got complicated, and we’d have to resort to heroic measures to finish. Sometimes people got burned out, but we delivered. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder….when the going got tough, why weren’t we looking more closely at the basics first – the foundations of team effectiveness?
I used to believe the secret sauce of strong project teams –and their effectiveness– was chemistry. Harkening back to a “Camelot” project – we had all the right capabilities and expertise, we were aligned on scope and approach, collaborative, and delivered a great project. Those characteristics are all easily seen. Yet, as I’ve continued to explore the essence of organizational culture I’ve come to realize that a team’s respect for [and engagement in] structure, visible processes, and clear governance, although perhaps more difficult to see, were the foundation, the secret sauce, of what made all the other characteristics work well –and ultimately are what made us successful.
How did I figure this out? Contrast.
Many years after the curtain came down on my Camelot project, I was asked to lead the process / organization side of a large technology project. Starting a project is like building a house – the quality of the foundation defines the remainder of the effort. The project had been operational for a few months when I joined so the foundation had already been poured. I dismissed the occasional hiccups I noticed as “the team getting started on a new project” –for as long as I could. At one point, I suggested that we revisit our project governance – the operational guide, how it was implemented, and whether the team followed it – but this was a mature team and the general consensus was that everyone knew what to do.
To be honest, there were so many things happening at once, it was impossible to identify clearly any specific, superficial cause for the hiccups. Have you ever been sitting at your desk on a Monday morning and experienced the subtle fragrance that tells you your office trash can wasn’t emptied over the weekend? You know you’d better take care of it – because it’s not subtle for long. Intermittent disruptions quickly turn into a steady stream of issues blockers, miscommunications, and disagreements about how the work should get done.
The “ask” from the team arrived in a one-line email: “Can you help us figure this out?” Now they were ready for me, and I was ready for them.
I had been thinking a lot about what I’d observed, but I was hard-pressed to know where to start. You know how in the movies the sound of a needle scraping across a vinyl record album silences a roomful of people? The thought of my mentor’s reaction to my lizard-brain urge to jump straight to solutions has the same effect. “How’s that working out?” he’d ask in his irritated-but-amused tone. Then, he’d remind me that “faster is often slower.”
One of the things Dr. W. Edwards Deming taught us through the System of Profound Knowledge is the importance of understanding our organization as system. When we do this, we can study it and understand how it performs, and develop and test theories on how we can improve it. When we attempt to “fix” the system without first understanding it – there is a high likelihood that we will make things worse. So, as I slowly backed away from the fire with the still-full gas can in hand, I pondered what my mentor would say and remembered the advice of Tim Timmons, a Major League Umpire who presented at a function I attended. On the subject of expanding our capabilities – and what to do when we’re just short of knowing what to do next – he reminded us to “return back to center” – the place where you know what you know.
So, that’s what I did. Using Dr. Deming’s diagram of how a system operates, I worked with the team to put together the picture of our project as a system – starting with the Aim (the importance of this project in the larger scope of the organization).
After we defined the Aim and value chain (the activities that contribute directly to achieving the Aim), we looked at inputs and influences – starting with the obvious – software, knowledge, development tools and the like. As the list of inputs waned – we crossed over to outputs and outcomes. Again – obvious ones like requirements and designs were mentioned. Then I prompted a little – asking the team to consider some of the outcomes we saw that we didn’t want: strain, and delays…. Light bulbs coming on. For 45 minutes, I shuffled between two sides of the white board -adding some inputs – but more influences; and some outputs – but more outcomes.
When we finished, we had a picture.
That picture helped us develop some themes – which showed us that while the situation seemed complex, it wasn’t overwhelming. In the next session, we did some root cause analysis and looked for low-hanging fruit – the solutions you can test fairly quickly. After three working sessions, we had a plan in place. Everyone was clear on what to do, by when, and by what method.
If you’re wondering, yes, governance (or the team’s lack of clarity with respect to governance) was a root cause. We revisited roles and responsibilities, reinforced processes for communicating across the team, and engaged the entire team in the development of RACIs – articulating what Roles are Accountable, Responsible, Consulted, and Informed – for every operational process. We also clarified the project methodology and trained everyone on it. All of the governance resources and tools became living documents that could be easily accessed by anyone on the team.
You see, it’s one thing to know, in general, WHAT a “role” does on a project. When we don’t take the time to clearly define the HOW, it’s like using too few nails to build a foundation. Before you know it, you’ll be fixing problems instead of marching toward your Aim.
Long before Adele and Lady Gaga spoke their first words, The Beatles and The Beach Boys were music industry leaders in the US and UK, as well as worldwide airwave competitors. While neither group may have heard of Alfred Politz, a pioneer in the field of market research, they would have surely appreciated his perspective on competition, borrowed by Dr. Deming for use on the opening page of The New Economics. “Nothing can do you so much harm,” Politz fancied, “as a lousy competitor. Be thankful for a good competitor.” For 50 years, Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson have acknowledged each other’s contributions to their own song writing. On several occasions, Wilson praised The Beatles’ album Rubber Soul as providing immediate inspiration for his classic love song, God Only Knows. In turn, McCartney has often placed God Only Knows at the top of his all-time favorites list.
My appreciation of Wilson and The Beach Boys has grown significantly in the past few years after viewing the Brian Wilson “biopic” Love and Mercy. Through this blast from my past, I was reminded of another Beach Boys’ classic, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, and the yearning, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long.” In reflecting on this adolescent wishfullness, I propose a wishfullness that organizations; public, private, and even governments; improve their understanding of variation and how it impacts the systems they design, produce, and operate.
Sixteen years ago, I visited the elementary school classroom of our then 8-year old son. At his request, I met with his classmates and shared stories about rocket science, given my prior employment in the industry. I presented several videos of rocket launches, including the Space Shuttle. I also used the opportunity to expose these young minds to the concept of a theory, as well as the concept of variation. Given my daily efforts to explain these concepts to adults, including rocket scientists, I wondered how 8-year olds thought about theories and variation. Upon asking if any could offer a definition of a theory, one raised her hand and replied, with little hesitation, “a theory is a prediction of the future.” Needless to say, I was astounded by the clarity of her answer. (All I could add, quietly, so not to confuse her, was “with the chance of being wrong.” To paraphrase Russell Ackoff, learning occurs when our predictions are wrong; when our best intentions lead to unexpected outcomes (as when the pattern of variation changes) and we see our theory in need of revision.)
I thereupon seized the moment by inviting her to join me in front of her classmates to participate in an experiment with a small glass marble, an offer she readily accepted. The experiment involved holding the marble in my right hand, at knee-height, and, upon releasing it, asking her to predict where it would land. Without prior data, she predicted a location. The marble landed several inches away. The experiment continued with a location prediction when the marble was dropped a second time. With little hesitation, she predicted that the marble would land on the same location as the first drop. Wouldn’t it be nice if it did? It didn’t. As the experiment continued, she and her classmates learned about the inevitability of variation, that the marble would land in a different location with every drop. For a few minutes, we also explored the many causes of this variation in landing location, including subtle changes in the release height as well as orientation of the marble. Wouldn’t it be nice if, years later, they entered the workforce with an ever-evolving appreciation of variation and its extensive causes? Focused instead on managing variation, not eliminating it, realizing that even cloning does not produce identical offspring. Wouldn’t it be nice if they were mindful of Dr. Deming’s adage, “Variation there will always be, between people, in output, in service, in product. What is the variation trying to tell us about a process, and about the people that work in it?”
Some years ago, I read an article on performance appraisals and was inspired to contact the columnist in response to their invitation for feedback. While I did not receive a reply, here is my feedback, which may inspire others to seize a moment in the coming months (or years) to offer their feedback to a friend, a co-worker, or a columnist.
John – I have just read your column on performance reviews, with a reference to Dr. Deming’s teachings. As you have noted, Dr. Deming was not at all a fan of annual performance reviews. As a student of Deming’s management theory, I would like to provide you with added feedback on his views. In addition to the fallacy of basing the feedback on one annual meeting, Dr. Deming also appreciated that the performance of any employee cannot be seen as separate from the system in which he or she operates. For example, the performance of a student on an exam cannot be separated from the performance of his/her instructor or his/her classmates. Or, the performance of a quarterback on a football team cannot be seen as separate from the abilities of his teammates to perform their roles. Just as scoring a touchdown is done as a team, against a team, education is done as a team, and so is everything in life, for we do not live nor exist alone.
Dr. Deming’s admonition was that we seek to see the greater system in which everything operates and, in doing so, realize that teamwork is always a factor in any performance, not solely the person or part we are observing. I will add another example, from Dr. Deming’s thinking in a class room, where he spent countless hours between 1950 and 1990 at New York University. Whenever he gave exams, or asked questions in class, he realized that the answers he received were not only measuring the students, but also his ability to convey ideas. He used the replies he received on exams and in the class room to adjust his teaching. Instead of believing he could separate the students from their much greater education system, he simply gave his students “A”s. He did so knowing he could not measure the learning of his students, separate from the system in which they learned, for such measures are impossible to capture. (As an example, consider the task of measuring the many contributions which resulted in the Bears victory yesterday over Seahawks and the appreciation that the contributions came from a series of wide-ranging events, such as practices, which did not even occur yesterday.) More important was Dr. Deming’s ability to prepare them for an unknown future, wherein the feedback of his teaching performance and his students’ learning abilities would be years in coming.
In closing, Dr. Deming’s perspective is that any feedback given to a subordinate is done knowing that his/her performance cannot be separated from a reviewer’s ability to interact with them, for together they are members of the same team. Feedback needs to be conducted from the vantage point of “How are WE doing”, not “How are YOU doing?”. Think of the teamwork we would experience in our organizations when we begin to see ourselves as part of the systems in which we work and live, and not as spectators. In closing, Dr. Deming was a firm believer in teamwork. He saw every activity in life as the result of individuals working and learning as members a team, be it a class room, on a football field, in a company, or in the halls of Congress.
Educational institutions are becoming dinosaurs with regard to the need for continuous learning. The entire system of continual learning has to be transformed to meet the future.
This paper describes the three major changes in the model call “Work Place as the Primer Campus”. The model has been tested in Norway for the last 6-8 years with great success.
Bjarne discusses how the model of educational institutions being where learning is done is an outdated model. Our workplaces must become where learning continues for our lifetime. This idea is decades old. Yet the progress toward creating systems that support lifelong learning are not close to adequate.
We have to go from push to pull based learning. So we have to adapt the lean, or flow, based thinking to learning.
The second leg is, we have to move the learning from the college campus, from the physical school, out to the workplace. This is the second leg.
And the third is, apply systems leadership, Deming philosophy of leadership.
So you see, all those three legs are interactive.
From Bjarne’s paper:
We are moving from a world where knowledge was imparted via schools, books and classrooms to a world where knowledge is made widely available and is accessible by anyone with a smartphone, a tablet, or an e-reader.
Faced with these fabulous opportunities that have opened up thanks to new technology, we are seeing many educational institutions being hopelessly left behind. Not because our educators are conservative, but because the changes in society are happening much faster than the changes in the education systems.
At Aileron, we fervently believe privately held business fuels free enterprise and raises the quality of life for us all. As businesses move beyond the start-up phase, a systematic approach to your business is critical to sustainable and strategic growth. We call this approach Professional Management, and have developed a system to implement it influenced by Dr. W. Edwards Deming and other great thought leaders. Dr. Deming’s timeless teachings have been, and will continue to be, a driving influence because we see his philosophies work.
The distinction between the meanings of the words ethical and moral is not always clear, and often they are used interchangeably as synonyms. Ethics has been used to refer to a system of values or moral principles for a group or profession. “Medical ethics,” for example, refers to the rules or standards governing the conduct of individuals as members of the medical profession. The “Puritan ethic” values self-denial and self-discipline as virtuous. When an individual does not act in ways consistent with the code of values of the group, the actions are said to be unethical.
Dr. Deming gave to each client at the start of their relationship a document that elaborated his code of ethics, the principles of professional conduct that guided his practice. The document is a statement of the mutual obligations of consultant and client. I would add that this is a map that applies to both managers as professionals and the specialists they supervise by providing principles of practice to effectively apply knowledge. In his statement of principles, Deming wrote, “The purpose of this paper will be served if these suggestions provide some guidance in areas in which they are less directly applicable, or even if they only stimulate interchange of ideas that will lead to further work on professional standards.” He also said, “Professional practice stems from an expanding body of theory and from principles of application. A professional aims at recognition and respect for his practice, not for himself alone, but for his colleagues as well.” Deming continued that a professional person takes direction in technical matters, from standards set by professional colleagues and not from an administrative superior. A professional person will not follow methods that are indefensible, merely to please someone. Deming also stated in his code of ethics, “Allocation of responsibilities does not mean impervious compartments in which you do this and I’ll do that. It means that there is a logical basis for allocation of responsibilities, and that it is necessary for everyone involved in a study to know in advance what he will be accountable for.”
H. Thomas (“Tom”) Johnson stands at the forefront of a world-wide community of business thinkers who are unveiling the limitations, as well as assumptions, of the old economics that underlie the mechanistic decision making and planning practices of corporations and organizations. Upon co-authoring his 2001 book, Profit Beyond Measure, (with Anders Bröms) he achieved this notoriety by dedicating himself to offering interested listeners and readers an alternative solution, which he refers to as Management by Means or MBM. In contrast to the classic management style of Management by Results or MBR, Johnson proposes a process-driven strategy, which draws heavily upon the insights he gained from Dr. Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge, coupled with frequent visits to Toyota’s operations, often in Georgetown, Kentucky.
In keeping with Myron Tribus’ observation that “What you see depends on what you thought before you looked,” Johnson’s background as a “cost accountant,” guided by seminars and conversations with Dr. Deming, prepared him to see Toyota as a living system, not a value stream of independent parts. Instead of seeing a focus on the elimination of waste and non-value-added efforts, Johnson saw self-organization, interdependence, and diversity, the three primary principles of MBM.
The essence of MBM, which compares Toyota’s system to a living system, is that satisfactory business results follow from nurturing the company’s system (the “means”), not from manipulating and wrenching its processes to achieve predetermined financial results (a mechanistic strategy popularly known as “managing by results”)….This sentiment is central to the Toyota organization’s deep-seated belief in the importance of defining the properties their operating system should manifest, and then having everyone in the organization work to continuously move the system toward those properties. …These three approaches to managing operations—the Shewhart-Deming approach, managing by means (MBM), and the Toyota Way—all suggest how different it is to nurture the system that produces a company’s financial results than it is to force the system to produce a desired result beyond its current capabilities.
Dr. Deming has been misquoted as having said, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.” Such a seemingly straight-forward perspective is actually counter to Dr. Deming’s admonition, borrowed from former Nashua Corporation statistician Lloyd Nelson, that “the most important numbers are unknown and unknowable.” The prospect of “profit beyond measure” provides great homage to both Lloyd Nelson and Dr. Deming and the financial insights offered by Johnson to readers in communities guided by both the old and new economics.
For those who are willing and able to discern the dramatic differences between the prevailing focus of systems that aim to produce better parts with less waste and reductions in non-value efforts and those systems that capitalize on a systemic connection between parts, this book offers abundant food for thought. This difference also represents a shift from profit as the sole reason for a business to profit as the result of “extraordinary attention to work and people,” a most fitting sub-title to this book.
This webcast shows Mike Stoecklein’s presentation, Understanding and Misunderstanding Variation in Healthcare, at the 2015 Deming Research Seminar.
The companion research paper that Mike wrote, Understanding and Misunderstanding Variation in Healthcare is packed with additional information on the topics he discusses and includes a summary of interviews with 40 individuals from 33 healthcare organizations and consulting companies regarding three areas of inquiry:
the current state of healthcare management’s understanding and responding to variation when they have data,
their current understanding of how the principle of variation applies when data are not present (including the management of people), and
a description of what is being taught and advice given around the principle of “understanding and managing variation.”
We think we can merely lift the methods and techniques that we see in great companies, like Toyota and others, and that we can have it [a strong and effective management system] as well. What we don’t understand is that our prevailing systems are based on these things, such as the short term focus, focus on the numbers, focus on results, focus on people (it’s a shame and blame sort of a culture), you divide the organization into parts and you manage the parts… [but] it is the interaction of the parts that is important, and then we try to manage from the office, we try to manage from the board room, we don’t go around and we don’t really understand what is going in the work world, and we infuse competition we don’t have collaboration and we think we are going to get the same results you see with a Toyota Production System, or something else, but we don’t. Because those systems are not going to drive those outcomes.
The effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will be felt for years. AccuWeather has reported the cost of recovery efforts will exceed $290 billion. That’s BILLION. With a “b.” And that’s just hard costs: clean-up, replacement of vehicles and belongings, home repair and reconstruction. That does not account for lost wages, lost business revenue, lost businesses, and worst of all, loss of life.
The 2017 hurricane season highlights the high cost of short-term decisions that have long-term and often incalculable consequence. While we can’t prevent severe weather, we can control what how we prepare for it – and in doing so, we can mitigate those losses that we often don’t know about until it’s too late.
Not by accident I’m sure, CBS news aired “Sea Change: How the Dutch confront the rise of the oceans.”Henk Ovink, Netherlands’ water ambassador – the water envoy for the King of the Netherlands, spent two years in the United States working in areas affected by Superstorm Sandy. “I said to [his US colleagues],” said Ovink, “did you think about preventing the disaster? And they were like, ‘preventing the disaster? No, we couldn’t. We have to make sure we RESPOND FASTER.” It gets better…He went on to suggest to his colleagues, “…suppose that there is no disaster because you prepared better?” Prevention wasn’t on the radar – their first inclination was RESPOND FASTER.
This week, 60% of Floridians – all of Florida – are without electricity. Florida Power & Light indicates many will be without power until September 22 (11 day outage). Two weeks ago, toxic waters flooded Houston’s streets, businesses and homes; and chemical plants went up in flames. And Katrina swamped New Orleans a decade ago. Following Katrina, we found out The Army Corps of Engineers feared the New Orleans levees would fail. On the heels of Harvey, The Atlantic Monthly reported (August 28) that “catastrophic floods have been anticipated for some time,” and the Houston Chronicle “called flood control the city’s ‘most pressing infrastructure need,” and blamed inaction on a lack of funding.
What the Dutch seemed to know, and what we have yet to systematically embrace is that the price of inaction (employing hope as a strategy) far exceeds the cost of prevention.
For 1,000 years, the Dutch have been waging war with the ocean, because 26% of the country is below sea level. In 1997, the country built a massive storm surge barrier – the Maeslant Barrier – to safeguard Rotterdam for the future. The cost of engineering and building the barrier could be calculated: time and materials. In contrast, it’s nearly impossible to calculate the total cost of the losses associated with our recent severe weather.
I don’t know the extent to which the Dutch are acquainted with Dr. Deming’s theory of management – but their approach brings Point #1 of Dr. Deming’s 14 Points for Management to mind: create a constant purpose toward improvement.
Plan for quality in the long term (at some point, there will be another hurricane)
Resist reacting with short-term solutions (if the levee design was tested and failed, learn from it; don’t simply reuse it)
Don’t do the same things better – find better things to do (consider PREVENTION over responding faster)
Predict and prepare for future challenges, and always have the goal of getting better (the next storm could be a decade away or tomorrow; – use available time to your advantage)
The Dutch – through the building of Maeslant Barrier – show us that we have much to gain by investing in continuous improvement; Houston demonstrates that we have much to lose if we don’t.