Six Sigma, Switching Spices, and Embracing the Slight Deviations in Life

Although in many aspects of life we must minimize variation to obtain desirable outcomes, it’s when we embrace the slight deviations from normalcy that we obtain leverage, advancement, and enrichment.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma, developed by Motorola in 1981, is a “rigorous and disciplined methodology that uses data and statistical analysis to measure and improve a company’s operational performance by identifying and eliminating defects.” In other words, it’s a business management strategy that seeks to minimize variation in operational processes to obtain desirable results for that business/industry.

For manufacturing, production, risk management, supply chain management, accounting, customer service, and many other traditional business functions, minimizing variation is critical for ensuring sustainability, accountability, and efficiency. If the outputs of these functions deviated from what was to be expected, well, it could be expected that the people, the business, and the industry could all be severely impacted at some level.

But in order to spur innovation, create new channels for business, and adapt to markets and mediums that are constantly in flux, these businesses must foster and embrace the slight deviations from what is traditional or expected. There are incredible resources available to allow for these deviations to be leveraged without enormous risk to the bottom line, public image, or financial outlook:

  • The internet is an amazingly efficient platform to test new strategies, engage with the public, and collaborate with the universe.
  • Statistical methods supply new insight to what may have been and what might be, should this or that occur, with one thing or another considered.
  • Social networks can be easily tapped and leveraged for business insight. More is understood about behavioral patterns and social networks than ever before, allowing more direct correlation of business decisions to societal impact.

Business functions, organizations, and entire industries can be bettered by embracing and running with such deviations, even if the short-term prospect could be unknown and questionable. Balancing normalcy with cultured variations is a mixed business strategy that provides leverage within that market, advances industry, and enriches society.

Switching Spices

Let’s move from biz to grub. Think of cooking as a math problem. Ingredients are your variables/inputs, methods are your coefficients/operators, and your dish is the output. Given the huge number of ingredients and spices, cooking and plating techniques, and methods of consumption, the range of outputs is somewhere around or above infinity. But given that our options are so vast, it’s amazing how much the output might change if just one of our inputs is changed.

The dish is our dynamical system. Sometimes all it takes is turning up the temperature, or maybe adding more juice, or switching a spice, and the dish becomes entirely new. This is math and food in bed together – the application of chaos theory to culinary experience – making slight deviations from recipes and “comfort-zone” cooking to find new dishes worth trying, sharing, and bragging about.

As much as cooking is an experience, it’s also an experiment. There may be structure – in terms of baking methods and recipe books and kitchen etiquette – but in reality, the door is wide open. Ingredients are for the using, and recipes are for abusing. The best dishes are the unexpected ones, the ones that deviated from expectation, the ones that turned from trial and error to don’t-want-to-share. The mistakes are worth making, for it’s the hundreds of bad pasta dishes that lead to the thousands of great ones. Without embracing the variation in cooking, well, we mind as well hook up to the same gas pump each day.

And lastly, if the world of cooking was its own planet, every inch of it would be covered with a different species, color, scent, appearance, and shape. There is an infinite number of combinations of ingredients, quantities, temperatures, styles, and dishes to consume. Sometimes just switching one spice with another or stirring a little less makes all the difference in making your palate happy and opening a world of new potential dishes. Embracing slight variations in cooking will create new kitchen opportunities, expand your breadth of culinary knowledge and experience, and enrich your palate with a vast array of potential flavors.

Adaptive Normality

So what would our world look like if everything was constantly normal? Would we even have a concept of normality? With no variation from what has been done previously, we would essentially cease to learn, experiment, discover, and grow as a society and civilization.

What makes individuals unique makes many individuals stronger.

Our characteristics give us dimension. Our characteristics – from eye colors to expressions to birthmarks – give us each an identity that we own while making our society as a whole much stronger, multi-dimensional, and poised to grow.

Our choices give us direction. Our choices – from picking a college to financial spending habits to lending a hand – fuel and steer us down towards success and happiness, down roads that sometimes seem endless, foggy, and even non-existent.

Realizing that much good in our lives is based on slight deviations from normality, we must continue to pursue opportunities away from the norm. We must adapt our conceptualization of normality from a straight line to one that constantly moves and includes the variation in life. Our threshold for risk must include these slight deviations so we make them a part of our everyday life. Pushing the envelope in multiple ways brings advancement and enrichment. Divergent thinking, trying new dishes, and taking roads less traveled are all small deviations worth embracing. Although it’s normalcy that might keep us standing, its variation that moves us forward.

The Power of Anticipation

In today’s society, gaining an inch can be like gaining a mile.

Soccer takes a lot of skill and athleticism. You need to be able to dribble, pass, shoot, tackle, communicate, see, sprint, etc. But as I’ve stated before (“mind bend it like beckham” – 2/11/2009) it’s just as much a mental game as it is a physical one. You need to think like your opponent and play somewhat of a guessing game, connecting dots before there’s any visible relationship between them. You need to forecast outcomes, intellectually seeing into the future guided by the data that’s available.

This sort of anticipation is an imperative ability for success in the future – within any endeavor. In business, anticipation means a gaining a leading edge on the competition. For defense, it means preparation and contingency plans for what might be likely to occur. In decision-making its gaining threshold confidence in your decision – using as much relevant information to guide a range of actions, opinion,s and ultimately, outcomes. And not to mention, it helps us grab our umbrella when running out the door.

Predictive analytics, although a seemingly new, hot topic today, has been around forever. Prophets, Mayans, Nostradamus, Pythia, lunar calendars, and the Akashwani – in a historical sense the predictions were informed by a variety of sensory stimuli coupled with intuition and a variety of other external factors. Nowadays, it’s really not that different. Today, we have data and semi-sophisticated mathematical processes that parallel conscious perception and intuition. We can quantify much of what could not have been quantified in the past.

“Predictive analytics encompasses a variety of techniques from statistics, data mining and game theory that analyze current and historical facts to make predictions about future events.

In business, predictive models exploit patterns found in historical and transactional data to identify risks and opportunities. Models capture relationships among many factors to allow assessment of risk or potential associated with a particular set of conditions, guiding decision making for candidate transactions.” (Wikipedia)

It’s imperative that people embrace predictive analytics to inform decision-making. Math doesn’t have to make the decision – that’s mostly for humans – but the math can give a comprehensive picture that outlines components of the decision and also tells us what the decision may lead to (or may have led to in the past) in terms of primary, secondary, and tertiary outcomes. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is a great example of this, using computer algorithms to predict world events of the future – war, proliferation, conflict, etc. Decisions are not made by computer models, but humans are briefed of probable scenarios in order to make better-informed decisions.

I’ve said this before – math can be simple when it’s made to be simple. It’s a toolbox of problem-solving techniques and thought processes to help guide real-world decisions and understanding. It’s important to not be afraid of the math – start small and grow your mathematical toolbox over time. Take it head on and don’t be overwhelmed. We all have something to learn and we all have something to gain by embracing prediction and anticipation.

So whether it’s sport, meteorology, national security, or adding garlic to the pan, find a way to anticipate. In doing so, my prediction is that you’ll be better off…

Links

a couple of great commercials

Two great commercials for two different reasons.

In a time when 99.99% of all commercials are excessively loud, irrelevant, and annoying, it’s nice to find two that are creatively fun (and productive). Some businesses should take a lesson.

American Express: Simple, creative, and soft.

State Farm: Quick, funny, and catchy.