A more perfect union through better methods

October 7, 2018.  Sunday Edition – Faith and values:  Guest Column: “People working together can make a more perfect union”

PDF Version Indianapolis_Star_20181007_A008_2 More Perfect Union

Your Turn

Tim J. Clark Guest columnist

Addressing the spiritual, economic and social challenges of our times may be as simple as recognizing that, although we may share a common desire for improvement, we have different ideas on the changes that need to be made to bring about that improvement.

But how do you determine when a change results in an improvement?

Faith-inspired philosophies, such as Christianity, can help answer this question. These philosophies acknowledge that human beings will always be imperfect but can improve by leveraging the potential of the human spirit. Changes motivated by love, compassion and the application of better methods can result in outcomes where everyone can benefit or at least not be any worse off in the long-term.

Philosophies that also align with the aim of the U.S. Constitution can provide a frame of reference for determining when a change results in an improvement. The aim of the American system of government is to enable “We the People” to work together to make progress – not toward a “perfect” union, which would be impossible – but rather toward a “more perfect” union.

The Founding Fathers of the United States provided us with the Bill of Rights, so that we may work toward a more perfect or better union. What the founders left up to future generations was to develop and apply better methods for determining when a change results in an improvement.

Walter Shewhart discovered one of those methods – the variation principle – in 1924. This principle is rooted in the fact that actions are accomplished through a process and everything involved in a process or system varies, including people. The type of variation (common cause or special cause) in a process or system helps identify the type of action needed to improve it. Continuous improvement by reducing variation results in better quality and less imperfection.

W. Edwards Deming, a student and colleague of Shewhart, developed methods that support the application of Shewhart’s variation principle to improve the quality of products and services. Deming’s contributions were recognized by Fortune magazine as being among the 20 that have shaped the modern world of business and by U.S. News and World Report as one of nine turning points in history.

The top turning point was identified as “The Apostle Paul, whose preaching and eloquent writings led to mass acceptance of Christianity.”

Deming once said that if he was to reduce his message to just a few words, it all had to do with individuals working together to make things more perfect by reducing variation.

I had the opportunity to attend a four-day seminar conducted by Deming in the late 1980s. Since then, I’ve successfully applied his methods to many areas of my life, including personal, family, community and career. For example, I had the opportunity to apply them while supporting the development of military and national defense related strategies. In 1986, Deming, estimated that it would take another 50 years before awareness of Shewhart’s contributions were more commonly known.

I hope that in some small way I have at least raised awareness of a new method that can be applied to leverage the potential of the human spirit that supports progress toward a more perfect community and union.

Tim J. Clark is a senior member of the American Society for Quality, past chairman of the Indianapolis Section and an exponent of an improved standard for quality leadership that supplements faith-based philosophies with the scientific method.

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The Neuroscience of Deming by JW Wilson

The contributions of W. Edwards Deming for improving quality were recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nine turning points in world history and by FORTUNE Magazine as among the greatest contributions to business history.

Deming identified four components of change that are fundamental to any improvement related initiative. These components are:

 

  • Appreciation for a system (action),
  • Knowledge about variation (feedback),
  • Theory of knowledge  (learning),
  • Knowledge of psychology (motivation).

The video presentation – The Neuroscience of Deming by JW Wilson introduces the science that validates Deming’s system for improvement.

The “So What?” Application of the “new system” optimizes individual and group performance in any aspect of life.

 

Changing the Government from the “Top”

Politically within the United States, we are in the midst of what might be considered as an uncivil conflict. America has been divided into red states and blue states, with social media serving as the battleground. The casualties in this conflict include opportunity costs — the outcomes this country could have achieved had we been working together instead of battling each other. We need to make some changes if we want to improve this situation and ultimately the nation.

When most people think about making improvements at the national level of government, they consider the “top” as beginning with the President, the U.S. Congress, or a political party. However, by law, the “top” is “We the People,” according to the U.S. Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. [emphasis mine]

The vision for America is to work together toward achieving “a more perfect Union.” Working to achieve this aim must be led and supported by “We the People” and not by the red states, blue states, or “deep state” politicians and their respective interest groups. These groups add value by identifying the polarity on issues and offering nonpartisan solutions but can also be corrosive to a system that was designed to be continually improved.

Tip O’Neill, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, reinforced that all politics is local.” Therefore, the U.S. government can be improved starting from the local level of government.

If “We the People” can begin the transition to improve quality at the county level of government, we could demonstrate a successful approach that might inspire improvements at the state and national levels of government.

The goal at the county level would be a shared vision for the future — a plan that identifies what people want and do not want regarding economic and community development. This would be followed by action that results in outcomes that citizens would agree result in a “more perfect” county.

To achieve these results, we need more independent voters as well as a critical mass of quality leaders.

Independent Voters Are Needed

An “independent voter” is an individual who votes for the person they believe is the best candidate, regardless of any political party affiliation. The “best” representative is someone who can lead change that results in everyone benefitting or, at least not being any worse off in the long term.

I consider myself a political independent. To vote in the primaries in my home state of Indiana, you have to declare a party, so I registered as a Republican. However, I vote for the best candidate, regardless of political party affiliation. If there is not a good candidate for a position, I leave the selection blank to send a message to the parties to recruit better candidates.

Last year, 42% of Americans identified themselves as political independents, while 29% percent identified themselves as Democrats and 27% as Republicans, according to Gallup. In upcoming elections, we need more people to be independent voters. In other words, we need more people to elect individuals based on their ability to address issues and challenges rather on their political party affiliation.

Critical Mass of Quality Leaders Are Needed

While it is important to let your voice be heard by voting, elections only come every so often. That’s why we need more quality leaders.

I support the theory identified by W. Edwards Deming. His contributions for improving quality were recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nine turning points in world history and by FORTUNE Magazine as among the greatest contributions to business history.

Deming believed that you need a critical mass of quality leaders to improve or transform an organization (e.g., group, community, country). Quality leaders are individuals who can apply and support the application of the better methods to improve processes and systems, resulting in outcomes where everyone gains, or at least are not any worse off in the long term.

The number of leaders needed can be calculated as the square root of an organization:

“In a small staff of 25, just 5 dedicated people who are committed to the improvement process and who work consistently will create a transformation. The same is true in a classroom. Think about getting a critical mass of students in a classroom. In a class of 30 students, the square root would be approximately 5.5. Since you can’t have half a child, round to 6. If you can get 6 students to commit and begin working with you and supporting your initiatives; you can transform the culture of the class.” — David Langford

As anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

An Example of What Is Possible

The challenges that local counties face can parallel the political polarity found at the national level. A political party can develop a monopoly on political power, which can be described as allowing a few people (along with ad-hoc project teams or interest groups) to dominate decision-making. Monopolies can lead to an abuse of power, which leads to less transparency, a lower quality of decision-making, and poorer results. It also leads to policies that benefit the few at the expense of the many.

Take, for example, the county in which I live: Brown County, Indiana. Around 15,000 people live in this small rural county. Residents appreciate its natural beauty, the rural environment, the friendly people, and our history as the “Artist Colony of the Midwest.” Key strengths include our community foundation, volunteers, and excellent schools.

Brown County has the highest concentration of forested land of any of Indiana’s 92 counties. Much of the county’s 312 square miles are state and federal lands or privately owned and not open to development. It is among the least populated county in Indiana, with a population density of just 48 people per square mile, compared with 182 statewide. The majority of employed citizens commute outside the county for work and tourism accounts for approximately 30% of jobs within the county, which contributes to a low to moderate income level.

Brown County has seen its share of challenges lately. The county government has recently implemented some policies that many residents view as being fiscally irresponsible, including:

  • Approval of a fast-track process to build a $12.5 million government-owned and government-managed music venue without providing citizens an opportunity to provide input on the desirability of the project, conducting an independent feasibility study, or reviewing the complete business plan before approving the project
  • A taxpayer-funded settlement for a township issue resulting from what some residents considered a hostile takeover of a volunteer fire department
  • A proposal to build a new $10 million courthouse without identifying the compelling need and analyzing other alternatives
  • Pushing through a $7.3 million wastewater treatment proposal without identifying the need or addressing the concerns and issues with people affected by the project

The critical mass needed to lead a transformation using methods that respect what citizens want (and do not want) regarding economic and community development is 112 (the approximate square root of 12,500 registered voters).

While we have not reached the critical mass of quality leaders yet, our network includes individuals who have opposite political positions regarding national policies but support basic governance principles. We are putting any left-wing/right-wing biases aside and working together to achieve “a more perfect county.”

The Independent Voters of Brown County IN website and Facebook page includes non-partisan suggestions for addressing our local challenges. The intent is to identify principles that could provide common ground and a strategy for improvement. A local  Facebook group was also created to share information and discuss “matters that matter” to the citizens of Brown County.

How You Can Help

Legendary National Football League coach Vince Lombardi remarked that “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” A more perfect county and country requires that citizens identify their vision for “more perfect.” The next step is to work together to apply methods to continually improve the processes and systems that will lead to “catching excellence.”

If you support the concept that national-level change can be led from the “top” (“We the People”) and want to provide moral support, go to our Independent Voters of Brown County IN Facebook page and “Like” us.  A few thousand “Likes” will provide some positive feedback. It will also help reinforce that it’s a small world and that local efforts can have wide-scale impacts.

Brown County Democrat Newspaper – Guest Columns, Opinions, Letters

GUEST OPINION July 25, 2018. Tim J. Clark. Maple Leaf: Will more money be a recurring theme?  This project was sold as “too good to fail.” Let’s hope that’s true. The public and voters will determine if the decisions and process used to fast-track this project are in the best interests of all county citizens. 

LETTER: June 12, 2018. New Courthouse ProposalLetter: Consider other ways for projects to proceed

LETTER:  May 2, 2018.   Stop digging’ on Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center.  There is wisdom in the metaphor that states that if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

LETTER: Mar 28, 2018.  Letter to the Editor:  Limit the scope of the proposed septic ordinance.  I participated in the public meetings last year on the proposed septic ordinance. Despite the concerns and recommendations identified at the meetings provided by a diversity of stakeholders, there have been no significant changes to narrow the scope of the proposed ordinance.

GUEST OPINION: Jan 23, 2018.  Working toward ‘a more perfect union’ By Tim Clark, a guest columnist. ”As individuals, we may not have too much direct influence over what happens politically at the national level of government. At the county level, our efforts can certainly be directed to local issues. We can choose to determine the quality of government that we want and need.

In my first guest column on this topic, “The role of process in county’s future,” I identified that the process used to fast-track the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) might represent a turning point for the future of the county.

In the follow-up column, “Coming together is a beginning,” I identified possible outcomes from the fast-track process regarding scenarios that included “status quo plus,” “transformative” and “collaborative planning.”

The feedback I received on the columns suggested additional scenarios that included identifying the best case and a worse case. Best case is that MLPAC exceeds all expectations. A worse case is that the venue does not meet expectations, requiring a decision as to the disposition of an underperforming venue.

Best case is that MLPAC exceeds all expectations. A worse case is that the venue does not meet expectations, requiring a decision as to the disposition of an underperforming venue.

 

GUEST OPINION: Jan 11, 2018GUEST OPINION: ‘Coming together is a beginning’ By TIM CLARK, guest columnist. In the first part of my series, “The role of process in county’s future,” I suggested that the process applied to fast-track approval of the $12.5 million investment in the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) might represent a turning point for the future of the ...

  1. .Status quo plus. The additional increase in year-round tourism from Big Woods/Hard Truth Hills (destination distillery) and the MLPAC are added to the tourism portfolio with some noticeable impacts on the culture of the county. This will include more events to promote entertainment, craft beer, wine and spirits tourism and additional traffic congestion. An increase in revenue from income and property taxes, the primary source of revenue for the county, might offset the increase in county infrastructure-related costs.
  2. Transformative. The expectations for the MLPAC were identified as leading to an increase in year-round tourism that would result in an economic turnaround, more jobs, hotel(s) and restaurants. These changes could possibly include the transition of Snyder Farm as an extension of Salt Creek Plaza. The requirement to fill a 2,000-seat venue will likely lead to offering any entertainment option and attracting any demographic that will sell tickets and attract visitors. Shops in Nashville could transition to bars or other dining and entertainment options that will encourage visitors to stay longer and spend more money. Other areas along the State Road 46 corridor could transition to tourist-related businesses. A casino might fit into this scenario. Entertainment, craft beer, wine and spirits tourism becomes a major part of the Brown County “brand.” The cumulative effect of the changes may lead to Brown County being considered a nice place to visit but not to live.
  3. Collaborative planning. Community conversations can help identify the best acceptable alternatives for tourism, community and economic development options. To quote Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Conversations can lead to strategies, strategies to plans, and good plans lead to results where everyone benefits — or at least accepts that a given initiative is beneficial overall. The collaborative approach can lead to the county being recognized as a “community of excellence,” which attracts more residents, businesses and families. An increase in families helps mitigate the decline in school enrollments and prevents school closures and consolidations.

GUEST OPINION: Dec 27, 2017. GUEST OPINION: The role of process in the future of Brown County. The Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) project and the process used to fast-track approval may represent a turning point for the future of the county.  

GUEST COLUMN: Sep 20, 2017.  Guest Column: A study of tourism and economic sustainability.  By Tim Clark, “However, tourism, by itself, has not and cannot provide a sustainable economic future for Brown County. Further, too much tourism can have …”

Note: The proponents of the Maple Leaf project claimed that Maple Leaf “….  could be what it takes to turn things around economically for Brown County.”  This article was written to offer another perspective.  The county is funded primarily by income and property tax.  

GUEST OPINION: August 29, 2017.  Guest Opinion: Maple Leaf: What are the other options?  By Tim Clark guest columnistThe Maple Leaf in a different location (Gnaw Bone? Bean Blossom? Ski World?) could be an “anchor” facility that could support further …”

LETTER: August 22, 2017.  Letter: ‘Zoning for Maple Leaf: Not in the plan’ – Brown County Democrat, Tim Clark  “Although the proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center has not been formally approved by the commissioners …”  

LETTER: Aug 8, 2017. Letter: Maple Leaf proposal: Let’s not fail to plan By Tim Clark. For those where planning may be an abhorrent concept, Benjamin Franklin is credited with the axiom that: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

Ray Dalio, China, and W. Edwards Deming

Post on LinkedIn. 

Chinese-American Misunderstandings, Disputes, and Wars By Ray Dalio, June 18, 2018.

I certainly respect Ray Dalio’s success as an investor, hedge fund manager, and author.  In his article, he includes references from a “wise and high-ranking Chinese official” that compares and contrast the cultural, political and economic differences between the U.S. and China.

The best-kept secret in America is that our system was designed to be continuously improved in pursuit of “a more perfect Union.”  What the design has lacked is a method or operating system that we can “individually” and “collectively” apply in taking action that results in outcomes where everyone benefits or at least, are not any worse off in the long-term.  This “operating system” or paradigm, was discovered by Walther Shewhart and further developed by W. Edwards Deming.  How China reacts if and when we start to leverage the capability of this new operating system will be interesting to watch.

Suicide, PTSD and Culture – A Deming Perspective

Headline News:  Americans are depressed and suicidal because something is wrong with our culture.  Kirsten Powers, Opinion columnist, USA Today, published 10:27 a.m. ET June 9, 2018 

Post and Discussion on LinkedIn.  As of June 19, 2018, 25,618 views, 96 likes, 48 comments, 12 reshares.

Given human nature and the fact that people are imperfect, there will likely always be suicides.  Studies indicate that there is a correlation between culture and suicide. As a Society, is our system stable, e.g.,  the number of suicides fall within a predictable range, or is it unstable?  The article by Kristen Powers identified “that suicide rates have risen nearly 30% since 1999, making it a national crisis.”  Does the 30% represent special cause variation?  A special cause identifies that based on the numbers, it is a statistically significant shift justifying the conclusion that it is a “crisis.”  If the “30%” represents common cause variation, then the number falls within a predictable range.  Stable does not mean good – just means its predictable.

The so what?  The aim of the Deming system for improvement is to take action that results in outcomes where everyone benefits or at least, are not any worse off in the long-term. This standard cannot be met without an understanding of common and special cause variation. Application of this knowledge significantly increases the probability that needed change will result in improvement – especially one that may require cultural changes.  Deming estimated that failure to understand the difference between common and special cause variation can lead to situations where 95% of action resulted in no improvement. He referred to this as “tampering.” Kristen Powers’ decision of sharing her story can certainly be considered among the positive improvement actions that can be taken.

Supporting Articles and Links

 

Center for Disease Control (CDC)  Suicide rates rising across the U.S.

CDC Vital Signs – Suicides

  • Suicide is a leading cause of death for Americans
  • Suicide is a leading cause of death in the US. Suicide rates increased in nearly every state from 1999 through 2016.
  • More than half of people (54%) who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition.
  • Suicide rates went up more than 30% in half of the states since 1999.
  • Nearly 45,000 lives lost to suicide in 2016.

Americans are depressed and suicidal because something is wrong with our culture Kirsten Powers, Opinion columnist, USA Today, published 10:27 a.m. ET June 9, 2018 

  • Rather than pathologizing the despair and emotional suffering that is a rational response to a culture that values people based on ever escalating financial and personal achievements, we should acknowledge that something is very wrong. We should stop telling people who yearn for a deeper meaning in life that they have an illness or need therapy. Instead, we need to help people craft lives that are more meaningful and built on a firmer foundation than personal success.
  • But most Americans are depressed, anxious or suicidal because something is wrong with our culture, not because something is wrong with them.
  • Changing our culture is critical. Being honest with others about our own personal struggles and dark nights of the soul is the first step. People on the edge need to hear stories that assure them there is a way through the all-consuming pain to a meaningful life.  

New York Times, Suicides Have Increased. Is This an Existential Crisis? June 23, 2018.

As a behavioral scientist who studies basic psychological needs, including the need for meaning, I am convinced that our nation’s suicide crisis is in part a crisis of meaninglessness. Fully addressing it will require an understanding of how recent changes in American society — changes in the direction of greater detachment and a weaker sense of belonging — are increasing the risk of existential despair.

Empirical studies bear this out. A felt lack of meaning in one’s life has been linked to alcohol and drug abuse, depression, anxiety and — yes — suicide. And when people experience loss, stress or trauma, it is those who believe that their lives have a purpose who are best able to cope with and recover from distress.

Junger’s new book ‘Tribe’ is giving the public exactly the wrong idea about PTSD

BY  | 
  • Sebastian Junger’s book is doing tremendous damage to the public perception of veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide.
  • Most horrifically, Junger claims that there is no relationship between suicide and combat. This ignores a trove of medical, academic, and journalistic evidence that clearly demonstrates that such a relationship exists.

HOW PTSD BECAME A PROBLEM FAR BEYOND THE BATTLEFIELD

  • Though only 10 percent of American forces see combat, the U.S. military now has the highest rate of post-traumatic stress disorder in its history. Sebastian Junger investigates.
  • Israel is arguably the only modern country that retains a sufficient sense of community to mitigate the effects of combat on a mass scale.
  • Another Israeli researcher, Reuven Gal, found that the perceived legitimacy of a war was more important to soldiers’ general morale than was the combat readiness of the unit they were in.
  • Given the profound alienation that afflicts modern society, when combat vets say that they want to go back to war, they may be having an entirely healthy response to the perceived emptiness of modern life.
  • It might also begin to re-assemble a society that has been spiritually cannibalizing itself for generations. We keep wondering how to save the vets, but the real question is how to save ourselves. If we do that, the vets will be fine. If we don’t, it won’t matter anyway.

Repeal the Second Amendment?

 

Following is a summary of a discussion on LinkedIn discussing the NYT Op-ed submitted by retired Supreme Court Justice Stevens: John Paul Stevens: Repeal the Second Amendment , March 27, 2018.

Does the discussion reinforce the need for a new approach to help resolve controversial issues?

The debate focuses on the “meaning” and interpretation of the second amendment from a legal perspective.  A different approach is looking at the issue not from an original meaning but from the original intent.

The aim of the design of the U.S. political system was to form “a more perfect” union (original intent). Working towards this aim from a Deming perspective would equate to taking action that results in a situation where everyone gains, or at least, are not any worse off in the long-term.

The challenge becomes to identify the feedback people need to assess if a change makes things better or worse.  Deming suggests looking at things from four perspectives: Psychology (motivation), Systems (action) Variation (feedback), and Knowledge (learning).

Psychology is the study of human behavior and what motivated it.  For many, guns in America are an integral part of our history, culture, identity, strength, sense of security, and freedom. Guns are also a symbol.  Many of the comments on the post reflect this perspective.

There is also the philosophic perspective regarding the nature of man – all humans have the capability of being good and evil which reinforces an individual’s desire for self-defense and self-reliance.   And further, some have more confidence in government’s ability to protect them than do others.  For many, the 2nd amendment is an insurance policy – you may never need it, but nice to have – just in case.

A System includes laws and interpretation of the laws.  I can’t add much to the current debate on the 2nd amendment.  I think both sides have goods arguments. Unfortunately, the debate will be never ending depending on who has the most votes at the time. Conservative will vote one way and liberals the other, e.g., zero-sum that indicates a stable (predictable) system.

Variation is the gap between the ideal situation (more perfect) and actual. From an “originalist” position, repealing the 2nd Amendment is tampering – which makes things worse.  From a “living document” perspective, repeal is an improvement.

The variation principle also provides a new standard that can be applied for assessing the efficacy of gun control laws.  It also provides a new perspective on looking at all the factors that contribute to unnatural deaths from crime, accidents, disease, addictions, war, et.al.  What are the trends?  What are the priorities for improvement? What is working? What is not?

Knowledge. What are we learning?   The responses to the post identify individual views and passion on the topic.  In regard to repeal, whoever has the most votes will “win.”  Even if the votes are there to repeal, many will not accept any ruling that conflicts with their belief that they have right to keep and bear arms.  The U.S. is not Australia where the population volunteered to turn in their guns.

A way-ahead?   Start with the variation principle. Get agreement on the methodology and data e.g., the facts regarding deaths due to the misuse of guns. To provide context, I would also include comparisons with other deaths by other causes. Any successful long-term solution will need to acknowledge and address the cultural aspects (psychology) that are an inherent part of the 2nd  amendment.

Assess your knowledge of the variation principle.

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