When is the last time you said. “I don’t know”?

Quality & Me

Subir shares short stories about what people do to make a difference everywhere they go. We can make huge contributions to the way we function as a society by standing out as an example within our own community: at work, at our places of worship, among our colleagues, friends, and family. All it takes is the courage to step up and being straightforward, thoughtful, accountable, and resilient.

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Books by Subir

The Power of LEO
The Ice Cream Maker
The Power of Design for Six
The Power of Six Sigma
Organization 21c

I admit it: I don’t have all the answers. But I do have confidence. Enough confidence to know what I don’t know—and admit it.  Enough confidence to speak up and out when I know something isn’t quite right.

Being straightforward means you know when to speak up even if you don’t have the answer. When I admit I don’t know something, it doesn’t mean I can’t learn or solve a problem.  In fact, I generally work harder when I don’t know something than when I do.

Truly successful people aren’t afraid of these three words: “I don’t know.” They don’t let their egos or pride hold them back. When you are straightforward, not only will you be more successful, but you will also have more fun being successful. Why?  You’ll have nothing to fear. You are completely liberated.  You don’t have to remember the last lie you made up, or who you told it to.

I was at a meeting hosted by an organization that provides financial support to low-income countries. Everyone there was straightforward, and I enjoyed participating. We spent our time at the meeting discussing what extreme poverty was, and how we could help eliminate it. On the last day, each of us received a folder of materials, including copies of the presentations that had taken place.

What shocked me was that most of the material was a collection of materials we had all already received electronically before the meeting.  Most of it was comprised of bios meant to stroke our egos! Here we were, talking about ending extreme poverty, and we had wasted resources printing out materials we had already received.

I decided to put my caring mindset to work and be straightforward.  I asked the entire group what we were thinking.  I told them we could have fed twenty people with the money we wasted on paper and printing. The thing is, everyone agreed!  A healthy discussion of the organization’s inefficiencies resulted, and we made a lot of progress toward out goals.

By being straightforward, we were able to make progress.




When has pride pushed you back?

Quality & Me

Subir shares short stories about what people do to make a difference everywhere they go. We can make huge contributions to the way we function as a society by standing out as an example within our own community: at work, at our places of worship, among our colleagues, friends, and family. All it takes is the courage to step up and being straightforward, thoughtful, accountable, and resilient.

BACK TO TOPICS PAGE>

Books by Subir

The Power of LEO
The Ice Cream Maker
The Power of Design for Six
The Power of Six Sigma
Organization 21c

It’s wonderful to have pride in your work, or to be proud of your children. But pride has a dark side, called “ego”. If left unchecked, your ego can get in the way of being straightforward.

Pride exists at the organizational level and can just as easily become tainted.  Think about it.  How many times have you witnessed senior level executives not acknowledging a problem? The reason?  Pride.  Ego.  They don’t want to admit that there is a problem because of ego:  someone else will think they’re weak, or that they’ll lose face.  To admit your decision was wrong means you are weak, correct?  Absolutely the opposite!

I once shared with a head of product development that I had saved another organization a billion dollars through our company’s work.  I even showed him an article that backed up my statement.  I had been wanting to work with his organization, so I thought this would be a good way to break the ice.  When we met, I told him that I was confident I could save his organization $500 million. He told me they were already doing well, and even intimated that the other company had “faked” the data.

Yes, he used the word “fake”.

You can only imagine what I was thinking in that moment.  I asked him if he realized he had just accused me of cheating. To his credit, this guy quickly apologized, but again told me they were doing well. My instincts told me his ego was getting in the way of admitting they could be doing better.  In his mind, admitting his organization could be doing better meant he had somehow failed.

I pushed him and asked him if he was saying there was absolutely no room for improvement. He told me that, of course, there is always room for improvement. I asked him if he was afraid to admit he could use help. After a pause, he responded that he was, indeed, concerned to admit he could use some help.

You can’t fix a problem if you deny it exists.  If you allow your ego to get in the way, you’ll never move forward. When was the last time pride prevented you from moving forward, and instead pushed you back?




Fear freezes your ability to be straightforward

Quality & Me

Subir shares short stories about what people do to make a difference everywhere they go. We can make huge contributions to the way we function as a society by standing out as an example within our own community: at work, at our places of worship, among our colleagues, friends, and family. All it takes is the courage to step up and being straightforward, thoughtful, accountable, and resilient.

BACK TO TOPICS PAGE>

Books by Subir

The Power of LEO
The Ice Cream Maker
The Power of Design for Six
The Power of Six Sigma
Organization 21c

Think about it:  when we are scared, nervous, or afraid, we shut out the outside world.  We become less open and transparent.

Instead of accepting our true selves, and admitting that we are afraid, we put up a wall designed to keep out the truth.  We make things up to compensate—about how good-looking we are, about how clever or competent we believe ourselves to be, about how much money we make. We lose sight of the importance of being straightforward and honest. Fear can undermine openness and honesty in anyone—including me!

Like many parents, I tend to think my children should be perfect. Take my daughter, for example.  She’s a typical teenager.  I sometimes forget that she is a far better person than I was when I was at her age. I can be demanding.  In fact, at one point I didn’t think she was working hard enough and let her know.  As a result, she withdrew from me.  She put up a wall. The truth was, I was the problem.  I was afraid that she might not be all she could be.  But my approach just made things worse!  When I realized how negative I was being, I had to remind myself to have a caring mindset.

Here’s what I did.  I invited my daughter to go for a walk and talk.  And you know what—we had a great time and an even better discussion!  I realized how much she had accomplished and that I could learn as much from her, as she could from me.  I was no longer afraid that she might not be all she could be. The wall between began to crumble because neither of us as afraid to be straightforward. When she understood why I was so exasperated with her, she opened up about her own hopes, dreams, and yes—mistakes.  Fear had driven us from each other.  Honesty brought us back together.

What walls have you built because you are afraid?




When was the last time you lied?

Quality & Me

Subir shares short stories about what people do to make a difference everywhere they go. We can make huge contributions to the way we function as a society by standing out as an example within our own community: at work, at our places of worship, among our colleagues, friends, and family. All it takes is the courage to step up and being straightforward, thoughtful, accountable, and resilient.

BACK TO TOPICS PAGE>

Books by Subir

The Power of LEO
The Ice Cream Maker
The Power of Design for Six
The Power of Six Sigma
Organization 21c

None of us grows up and then suddenly starts lying. We develop a tendency toward telling fibs – and outward lies – at early age. Study after study shows that most us have lied at some point during our lives. By the time we’re adults, many people have made an art out of avoiding the truth.

When you choose to have a caring mindset, you are making a choice to tell the truth – the opposite of lying – regardless of how painful that truth may be. You need to embrace being honest, open, and straightforward. And you need to do this in every conversation and every interaction. At the office; at home; with friends and family, as well as strangers.

You know the expression, “the truth will set you free”? It’s true. Being truthful and hones is critical when it comes to having a caring mindset. And a caring mindset is the difference between failure and success. It leads to more healthy organizations, families and communities. Lying has severe consequences. If you take credit for someone else’s work, you are lying. That lying will cause people in your organization to underperform, leave the organization, or even sabotage future projects. As you can see, it causes both physical and emotional stress, and erodes profitability.

Organizations often have a mission statement that helps to communicate their values to employees and customers. But just as often, these organizations don’t honor them. They may talk about how much they care about their employees, but then place unrealistic goals and expectations on those same employees. In other words, these organizations lie. And if you lie in your mission statement, you’ll never recover. Employees will be angry, resentful, frightened, and disappointed. They may even start lying themselves.

When was the last time you lied? Be honest about your answer!

When has pride pushed you back?

Pride exists at the organizational level and can just as easily become tainted.  Think about it.  How many times have you witnessed senior level executives not acknowledging a problem? The reason?  Pride.  Ego.  They don’t want to admit that there is a problem because of ego:  someone else will think they’re weak, or that they’ll lose face.  To admit your decision was wrong means you are weak, correct?  Absolutely the opposite!

A Moment of Truth for the Solar Panel Industry

I recently read a commentary in the New York Times (“Solar Industry Anxious Over Defective Panels”; May 25, 2013, link), and something sounded familiar. Solar panels that are expected to have a 25-year life span are failing. Coatings are disintegrating and other defects have caused fires. Worldwide, the reports are coming in. The $77 billion solar photovoltaic industry is facing a quality crisis.

Enrich the Process

I was at a gas station and saw a sign that claimed that the fuel was “enriched” with a chemical additive that would make my car run cleaner and more efficiently. My wife bought food that was also enriched, fortified with vitamins and minerals that added nutritional value.

A Little Salmonella May Not Kill You, but it May Kill your Economy

After salmonella was discovered in a flavor-enhancing ingredient, a wide range of processed foods were recalled including soups, snack foods, dips and dressings, the result of poor quality control.  Food and Drug Administration officials noted that the ingredient, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, was used in thousands of food products. The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said no illnesses or deaths have been reported - so far.




What is the cost of a little white lie?

Quality & Me

Subir shares short stories about what people do to make a difference everywhere they go. We can make huge contributions to the way we function as a society by standing out as an example within our own community: at work, at our places of worship, among our colleagues, friends, and family. All it takes is the courage to step up and being straightforward, thoughtful, accountable, and resilient.

BACK TO TOPICS PAGE>

Books by Subir

The Power of LEO
The Ice Cream Maker
The Power of Design for Six
The Power of Six Sigma
Organization 21c

Let’s talk about lying.

We have all lied at some point in our lives, even if it’s one of those “little white lies” you told your mother. The thing is, lying is never acceptable. Unless and until you replace lying with being straightforward, you’ll never have a caring mindset. People don’t necessarily lie because they want to harm someone. It’s usually because they want to avoid dealing with a difficult situation. It’s not always easy to be straightforward, but the more you do it, the more liberating it feels.

How can you tell when someone isn’t being straightforward? When I booked a family vacation at a five-star resort, I was assured I would get the rooms I wanted—ones with spectacular views. I even reconfirmed shortly before we arrived and was assured my rooms would be available. Except they weren’t.
We were told our rooms were not accessible due to a plumbing problem on that floor. With profuse apologies, we were given different rooms.

Something about what we had been told didn’t feel right. When someone lies to you, you can sense it. You can feel it. I had a nagging feeling that the story I had just been told was – simply put – a lie. Because I make my living solving problems, I decided to do some snooping. I asked several guests on the floor we were supposed to stay on if they had experienced any issues with the plumbing. You guessed it—no problems.

I was furious. When I confronted the manager, he tried to calm me by waiving the cost of the rooms. Clearly, he didn’t get it. It wasn’t about the money—it was about the indifferent mindset of the hotel and its employees. My assumption is that they had overbooked, or other guests staying at the hotel had extended their stay—I never did find out. And you know what? It doesn’t even matter! Had the hotel staff been straightforward with me, I would have still been annoyed, but I would have felt that they cared enough to tell me the truth and apologize for their mistake.

What happened the last time you weren’t straightforward with a client of team member?




How will you embrace the truth?

Quality & Me

Subir shares short stories about what people do to make a difference everywhere they go. We can make huge contributions to the way we function as a society by standing out as an example within our own community: at work, at our places of worship, among our colleagues, friends, and family. All it takes is the courage to step up and being straightforward, thoughtful, accountable, and resilient.

BACK TO TOPICS PAGE>

Books by Subir

The Power of LEO
The Ice Cream Maker
The Power of Design for Six
The Power of Six Sigma
Organization 21c

A friend communicated a story to me about Alan Mulally, the former CEO of Ford.

When Mulally first joined the organization, he gathered his senior management team together to identify what needed to change at Ford.

In a nutshell, Mulally asked his team to color code their initiatives red, yellow, or green. Red meant things were in bad shape—for example, a launch date might be missed.

Yellow meant an initiative wasn’t going well, and green meant the initiative was on track. He wanted his team to be straightforward when presenting their reports so they could figure out solutions.

Everyone’s reports were nothing but green. No yellow or red in sight.

Keep in mind that Ford had lost billions of dollars.

Mulally wondered out loud how everything could be going so well while the company was losing so much money.

Mulally knew that if his team wasn’t straightforward, chances were no on else in the company would be. It was a race to the bottom. He explained that he expected his executive team to be straightforward about the problems they were having.

The reports continued to remain green. Why? Ford’s culture was the opposite of being straightforward: it was a culture of deceit, CYA—whatever term you want to use. Everyone knew there were problems, but no one had the guts to talk about it.

Then Mark Fields spoke up.

I don’t know if Mark had a sudden awakening, or just got sick of sitting through another unproductive meeting, but he described a problem his team was having, and why a new car launch would be delayed.

I’m told you could hear a pin drop. Then Mulally started applauding. Applauding! Finally, someone who wasn’t afraid of the truth. He chose to be straightforward. That action was the beginning of a new culture at Ford—it was a turning point.

You know the rest of the story—Ford was the only U.S. automotive manufacturer to emerge from the automotive crisis without filing for bankruptcy or having to accept government assistance.

The power of truth lies in our ability to embrace it.

Have you gotten the “Wake-up” call to be straightforward?

A director I was consulting with always expected people to come to him. This guy really believed that no news was good news. Like a lot of senior level executives, he expected people to come to him, not vice versa. The problem was, no news wasn’t good news—it was the opposite. Problems weren’t getting resolved.

A Moment of Truth for the Solar Panel Industry

I recently read a commentary in the New York Times (“Solar Industry Anxious Over Defective Panels”; May 25, 2013, link), and something sounded familiar. Solar panels that are expected to have a 25-year life span are failing. Coatings are disintegrating and other defects have caused fires. Worldwide, the reports are coming in. The $77 billion solar photovoltaic industry is facing a quality crisis.

Whose political crisis is this, anyhow?

I am deeply troubled by the increased pace of self-inflicted crises in our government and economy. We have been witness to one event after another during the last several years, each with seemingly greater levels of consequence and damage. Not surprisingly, this is all happening under the watchful eyes of two of the least productive congressional sessions in history.

Subir Chowdhury Fellowship on Quality and Economics at Harvard University

Expanding the outreach of Subir Chowdhury's global call for quality throughout society - at all levels - a Fellowship on Quality and Economics has been established at Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The goal: to explore the impact of quality and economics in the United States.