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May 30, 2017

At Last! I've Graduated

While rifling through a stack of papers, I discovered this blast from my past (and a legacy of my cherished years at Arthur Andersen LLP in the 80's and 90's). Do you remember CI? Continuous Improvement holds a place of honor as a business approach; it's earned its chops in many of the world's greatest firms. But there's something about that line on my certificate "a process from which (s)he will never graduate" -- words written over 20 years ago now -- that got me thinking.

I understand the concept. But don't those words also convey a sense of hopelessness? Is seeking to bring a particular journey to a close such a terrible thing?

It's much more the rhetoric than the concept that I fault. Much like the famous (or infamous) Xerox slogan "quality is like a race without a finish line," the idea can certainly describe an admirable commitment on the part of business to continually raise its game; to combat competitive pressures; to better serve its customers; and to rally workers who are engaged in a common business pursuit. But at the same time, isn't crossing a finish line a good thing?
CI bore its early fruit in a business culture (Japanese) that typically offered employment for life: a concept that has not taken root in the American high-tech industry in which I've dwelt for decades. Indeed, I work in a world where few things enjoy longevity. Companies launch, flash, fizzle or are bought, making a race seem like more of a relay; but a relay with a true finish line in sight as the runners seek to achieve that glorious moment of liquidity, before moving on to the next track.
Yes, I can accept that "quality is a never-ending journey" (Roger Milliken). But I know that life and work are fleeting. I will continuously improve the quality of the work I do, the words I write, the projects and procedures I develop and pursue. And as a manager I'm absolutely committed to helping my team members continuously grow and develop as professionals as they seek to fulfill what I perceive as their ever-increasing potentials. And I use every tool at my disposal to do so, including CI. But I'm also here to enjoy life and work, to approach each day with optimism and good humor, and to have fun with the people with whom I work. So in that sense: yes, I've graduated.

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