A Critical Flaw in the U.S. System of Government

 

The U.S. system of government is designed to be continually improved with the aim of “We the People” making progress toward “a more perfect Union.” The flaw is that we lack a shared method for reducing imperfection that will produce results where we all gain or, at least, are not any worse off.

“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.”Preamble to the U.S. Constitution

A problem with the word “perfect” is that the term can be used in a context where perfection can be perceived as being obtainable. The U.S. Founding Fathers were careful to prevent citizens from drawing this conclusion by using the phrase “more perfect.” Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi reinforced the “more perfect” theme in his statement: “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

A 2016 Gallup survey indicated that 89% of Americans believe in God or a universal spirit. Many of the Founding Fathers were influenced by the biblical philosophy that only God is perfect and that man is imperfect but is expected to improve. Consequently, it might be concluded that life is all about reducing imperfection.

Edwards Deming, who is the founding father of many effective quality improvement methods, concluded that if he was to reduce his message to just a few words, it all had to do with reducing variation. Reducing variation is synonymous with reducing imperfection. A description of variation in a context that supports the interrelationship between variation, perfection, excellence, and quality is as follows:

American Society for Quality: What Is the Law of Variation?

“In simple yet profound terms, variation represents the difference between an ideal and an actual situation.

An ideal represents a standard of perfection—the highest standard of excellence—that is uniquely defined by stakeholders, including direct customers, internal customers, suppliers, society, and shareholders. Excellence is synonymous with quality, and excellent quality results from doing the right things, in the right way.

The fact that we can strive for an ideal but never achieve it means that stakeholders always experience some variation from the perfect situations they envision. This, however, also makes improvement and progress possible. Reducing the variation stakeholders experience is the key to quality and continuous improvement.”

Ideals are derived from basic human needs. America’s ideals were identified in the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Deming concluded that, without knowledge of common and special cause variation, 95% of actions taken to improve a situation results in no improvement and can make things worse. Knowing the difference between common and special cause variation results in a higher success rate because it leads to improving systems. Further, it leads to knowledge through assessments to determine what worked, what did not work, and what might be done differently next time to successfully reduce variation. (Assess your knowledge of the variation paradigm.)

By implementing the methods proven to be effective in reducing variation, the United States has the potential to surpass and then sustain the economic boom and prosperity it experienced after WWII (1947-1977) when the country had a global competitive advantage. But as Deming often remarked: “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

Despite the conclusion drawn by major media outlets such as FORTUNE magazine and U.S. News and World Report that Deming’s work represents one of the most fundamental improvements in business if not human history, Deming’s work is still virtually undiscovered.

When Deming described the scope of the needed transformation, he used the term metanoia, which he defined as “penitence, repentance, reorientation of one’s way of life, spiritual conversion.”Norman Todd elaborated on this premise in his paper Metanoia and Transformation II.

A Way Ahead

Perhaps if more leaders recognize the connection between imperfection and variation, they might become more aware of the connection between science and spirituality. This, in turn, might lead to the broader application of Deming’s teachings.

Leading this change will require that a critical mass of leaders embrace the new paradigm for Quality Leadership that will support a Vision for Transformation.

Business Culture and Financial Success

 

Top Bridgewater exec explains how its intense, unique culture helped the world’s largest hedge fund make $50 billion

Interesting insight on the correlation between culture and success.  Ray Dalio provides further insight in his e-book titled Principles by Ray Dalio,

W. Edwards Deming estimated that only 5% of management actions applying traditional methods resulted in improvement. Appears that Bridgewater has a higher success/failure ratio.

New Administration: Real Improvement This Time?

Throughout my federal career, I had the opportunity to work with and support many presidentially inspired “change initiatives,” with the expectation that change would result in what citizens would conclude is an improvement.

The past initiatives include zero-based budgeting, quality circles, total quality management, Federal Managers Financial Integrity Act (FMFIA), Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, Corporate Information Management, Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), business process reengineering, reinventing government, Six Sigma, and Lean.

Many of these programs have faded away. The initiatives supported by law (such as GPRA and FMFIA) are still on the books, but they certainly have not achieved their aims. Only the Baldrige program has successfully stayed the course since its inception in 1987.

I’m guardedly optimistic that government reform and improvement under the Trump Administration may have more success in bringing about and sustaining needed improvement.

Newt Gingrich and the Trump Administration

In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, voters voiced their demand for change. Veteran pollster and political strategist Patrick Caddell noted that this race represents another American revolution.

Trump supporters demand revolutionary change. Trump opponents are awaiting evidence that the new administration can make changes in one area without making things worse in others.

Success in achieving real improvement in a political climate that has been described as divisive and polarizing requires new approaches. Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House and advisor to President-elect Donald Trump, might be able to provide them.

When Gingrich was asked about a possible new role in the Trump administration, he remarked that he saw himself as more of a waste, fraud and abuse czar. In The Hill, Gingrich commented:

“I said I want to be the senior planner for the entire federal government, and I want a letter from you that says Newt Gingrich is authorized to go to any program in any department, examine it and report directly to the president.” 

In a follow-up question on the involvement of Gingrich, President-elect Trump stated that “Gingrich is going to be involved in our government.” However, The Washington Post reported that Gingrich intends to focus on “strategic planning” rather than run a federal department. Gingrich remarked:

I want to be free to network across the whole system and look at what we have to do to succeed.”

During his run for president in 2012, Gingrich signed a pledge to adopt Lean Six Sigma in government if elected. By signing the pledge, he promised to:

“eliminate spending deficits and start paying down the national debt by 2017 by deploying Lean Six Sigma waste reduction methods to detect and eliminate 25 percent of spending per year across the federal government.”

As I mentioned in a previous article at FedSmith.com, “Individual and System Performance – Pass or Fail?”, Lean Six Sigma methods and tools can improve efficiency. However, they are not sufficient to bring about the federal-level changes that are needed to positively impact the entire nation. A new quality paradigm is needed.

The New Quality Paradigm

From 1991-1993, Gingrich was a student of the world-renowned quality expert W. Edwards Deming. Deming’s contributions 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 in business history. Dr. Deming was also nominated for a Nobel Prize in Economics.

Gingrich met with Deming for about 60 hours over a three-year period to learn how Deming’s principles could be applied to support a quality transformation in America. Gingrich integrated what he learned from Deming in the sixth class (“Pillar Five, Quality as Defined by Deming”) of a 10-session college course titled “Renewing American Civilization.”

Excerpts from that college course have been compiled into the book Readings in Renewing American Civilization (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993). On page 107, Gingrich defines “The New Quality Paradigm” as follows:

“What Deming offers is the beginning of a new paradigm and a framework for management within it.

His aim is to improve the quality of life and economic situation of all. Some may quibble with the aim, but there are no viable alternatives. Because of interdependencies, everyone will eventually lose unless all can win.

Furthermore, ensuring that everyone wins is not a matter of taking from the rich to give to the poor, i.e., redistributing the outcomes of the process. Rather, it is of working on today’s process so that everyone can get better results tomorrow.

The job is to improve the ability of each and every individual and organization to create value for themselves and for the society that nurtures them.”

New Standard for Quality Leadership

Successful application of “The New Quality Paradigm” requires the application of a new standard for quality leadership derived from the contributions of Walter A. Shewhart and W. Edwards Deming.

Deming concluded that working to achieve optimal levels of performance is all about reducing variation from the ideal. Deming also reinforced that the failure to understand variation results in situations where the majority of not all in some cases, of changes, result in no improvement. This observation was certainly validated by my experiences with change within the government.

During the final years of my career (2011-2014), I wrote a series of articles in FedSmith.com on the need for change and how better methods could be applied to improve the efficiencies and effectiveness of the political system and the administration of its policies, laws, and regulations.

A Way Ahead

The U.S. political system was designed to be continually improved through changes that result in “a more perfect union.” As Gingrich so eloquently expressed, a new paradigm is needed to achieve the types of results where everyone gains or is, at least, not any worse off. This requires the application of a new standard of quality leadership. Leading this transformation in a political climate that is divisive and polarizing has to be considered one of the ultimate challenges—but it is a challenge that the American people will expect to be met.

The mid-term elections in 2018 will provide citizens with the opportunity to provide feedback on the direction and to determine if they are any better off in 2018 than they were in 2016.

Crossover to Quality Leadership

In music or art, a crossover artist is an individual that is successful in a “genre other than the one in which they achieved their initial success.”

Two articles in the American Society for Quality’s (ASQ) November 2016 issue of Quality Progress (QP) reinforce the opportunity to recognize the need for greater crossover from the non-science and business management disciplines. This crossover can be supported by embracing the broader concepts and strategies needed to support ASQ’s vision of being the global voice of quality.

In their excellent article, Understanding Variation, Nolan, Perla and Provost reinforce the need for the understanding of variation from a statistical frame of reference that is of benefit to almost everyone.  The article also  includes the quote from W. Edwards Deming that “Another half-century may pass before the full spectrum of Dr. Shewhart’s contributions has been revealed in liberal education, science, and industry.

“A liberal education is a system or course of education suitable for the cultivation of a free (Latin: liber) human being. It is based on the medieval concept of the liberal arts or, more commonly now, the liberalism of the Age of Enlightenment.” (Wikipedia).

In addition to the sciences, liberal arts can also be defined as including …  philosophy, history, literature, music, art, and other so-called “humanities.”  (greatideas.org)

In the same issue of QP, the article by QP Staff “Fresh Faces: A new generation of quality leaders,” reinforces the underrepresentation of the “humanities” in academic disciplines and career pursuits.

I’m an exponent of a “”New Standard for Quality Leadership” that is derived from the contributions of Walter Shewhart and W. Edwards Deming.  This new standard and supporting paradigm requires the application of a broader understanding of variation. The more comprehensive description – “What is the law of variation?”  is available on ASQs website.

The so what?  The current state of quality represents the modern day equivalent of the belief that the earth is flat.

The better paradigm can be immediately applied to improve quality in any aspect of life and at any level.  Evidence of the shift to the new paradigm will include outcomes that can only be brought about when  …” the full spectrum of Dr. Shewhart’s contributions has been revealed in liberal education, science, and industry.

 

How the Baldrige Framework Is Helping Rural U.S. Communities

How the Baldrige Framework Is Helping Rural U.S. Communities
Posted on September 6, 2016, by Christine Schaefer 

In preparing to share here how the Baldrige Excellence Framework is being used to support community vitality in a rural region of Missouri, I’ve been thinking of how quintessentially American the Communities of Excellence 2026 (COE 2026) initiative is. In particular, it strikes me that what’s happening in northwest Missouri exemplifies an idealistic, innovation-minded spirit that has been present in American communities for centuries—likely reenergized by the continual infusion of immigrants seeking a better life than what they experienced in their countries of origin. Consider the prescient words of John Winthrop, the 17th-century founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, to his Pilgrim community: “We must consider that we shall be a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people upon us.”

Draft framework customized for application within a Community

Update on Communities of Excellence 2026 
Posted on March 31, 2016, by Christine Schaefer

What’s the latest on the initiative launched last year to create “an archipelago” of high-performing communities in the United States using a framework based on the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence? I recently asked Stephanie Norling, managing director of Communities of Excellence 2026, for an update.

 

Quality Leadership and the U.S. Constitution

Preserving the ‘genius’ of the Constitution  by David Keene – The Washington Times – Monday, September 12, 2016

The success of the American Republic is directly traceable to the wisdom and work of the 55 men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft a constitution designed not so much to empower government, but to limit that power. Forrest McDonald,...

The U.S. Constitution was designed on four components of change that the world-renowned quality expert W. Edwards Deming labeled as a System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK).

These components include an understanding of the human behavior that influences motivation (psychology), action (systems), feedback (variation) and learning (knowledge).

The Constitution identifies “top management” as the citizenry and assigns “We the People” the responsibility to work towards the ideal of a “more perfect union.”

Quality Leadership is all about reducing variation from the ideal.