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.

Knowns, Unknowns, and Aether Abound

Much of our lives is about problems and solutions. Faced with a barrier, we find a way to knock it down. Presented with a challenge, we work to overcome it. Our collective problems bring us together, and our collective solutions make us safer, stronger, and happier.

These problems come in many shapes and sizes: math problems, career problems, logistical problems, emotional problems, physical problems. Rather than maintain special problem solving techniques for individual problem types, we can expand our methods into a global group, and learn from one type what may be helpful for another. Sticking with math – a common language and underlying framework of nature and intellect – we can relate our methods for solving math problems to the rest of the world around (and above us).

There is an innate simplicity to many math problems: there are knowns and there are unknowns. The solutions often reside in the application of methods and operators to the knowns to determine one (or all) of the unknowns. Therefore, the first step is often determining what is known and what is unknown. Although, this notion has been most popularly  represented by set theory (a foundational system of mathematics that deals with collections of objects), this concept has been the spark for other applied methods and disciplines through which many more complex problems are tackled in today’s society.

In game theory, a player’s strategy can be represented by differentiating the sets of moves that could make positive gains versus those that could make negative gains, given the possible situations at each stage of the game. Closely related is decision theory, where we look for the pros and cons, uncertainties, and rationalities behind potential decisions to determine an optimal course of action. In chaos theory, we define initial conditions and explore how the behaviors of some dynamical systems change as those knowns vary or as unknowns are introduced into the system.

To delve deeper into the questions of known-unknown identification, set theory, and related applied methods, we can think about a problem that began on day one, has no end in sight, yet has made incredible progress over centuries in terms of approaching a solution: what’s above us? What’s with the sky, the planets, the stars, the universe – the aether that surrounds us?

Is the total set of knowns and unknowns about the universe infinite? Does a new known always present us with a new unknown? Is the same true for every problem, or just some? For which types of problems might this be true? Are we better at approaching a solution collectively or as individuals? How can this be determined at the onset of a problem? If the set of unknowns has no limit or boundary, is the solution intelligently impossible? Does a single element of randomness deny a complete solution from every being possible? Are we better off existing without a solution? Or would we be complete with a world of all knowns?

I fundamentally believe that we find meaning in life through the unknowns, not the knowns. The set of unknowns is infinite, and it is our drive to understand unknowns and, in general, the curiosity into the mysterious world that provides completeness. The knowns give safety, guidance, comfort, and pleasure.

For all problems we face, and as with the aether abound, we can continue to move forward, learn what we know, and question that which we don’t know. We can start with sets – knowns and unknowns – and move from there. Problem solving can be simple, if you start simple. As for the things we don’t know we don’t know – the unknown unknowns – well, we better stay curious with the mysterious, and just be happy for that.

String Theory, Email Threads, and Happiness

Our lives are made up of millions of threaded moments in numerous conscious and subconscious dimensions. Identifying these threads – from multiple emails to time volunteering to a loving relationship – and making them last, making them stronger, and weaving them through multiple life dimensions is a key to health and well-being.

String theory attempts to relate multiple disparate concepts about our universe into a more unifying framework. Specifically, it states that subatomic elements (electrons, quarks, bosons, etc) are not three-dimensional objects but rather are one-dimensional strings that vibrate to take on semi-measurable characteristics (mass, spin, flavor, charge). Additionally, string theory posits that our universe is made up of unobservable dimensions that, at the most basic level, provide some sort of logical consistency to the known laws and theories of the physical (and metaphysical) world.

Well on a more macro level, our lives are very much made up of strings and dimensions. For our purposes, let’s just call them threads. Threads are made up of several connected points spanning one to many dimensions of our lives. These threads are our conversations, our friendships, our good deeds, our actions, and our spontaneous thought streams – the basic units by which we live our life. Our life dimensions are our jobs, families, friends, teams, systems, cultures, and countries, as well as our core knowledge, ideas, and feelings  – the encompassing elements by which our lives fundamentally exist. And finally, our lives have outputs too! They are our health and our well-being, our happiness, our faith, our understanding, and the meaning we extract from the world.

Think about some threads of your life:

  • Email Threads – Maintain a steady stream of conversation to build new knowledge, ignite new thought, and establish a strong connection with someone.
  • Volunteering – Show up when you don’t feel like it, encourage others to work harder, and continually establish yourself as a reliable and dependable contributor to society.
  • Love & Relationships – Always give to, and never give up on, the ones you love most in this world.

So now to the crux of my point: these life threads are the critical inputs to ensure our happiness and well-being are properly sustained, cultivated, and shared. By identifying these basic units, making them stronger, tying them together, crossing them through multiple dimensions of our lives, and “vibrating” the heck out of them, we can collectively share happiness and good faith as a society through better relationships, systems, and mutual understandings. Seems chaotic, yes, but in chaos there is a natural simplicity. Said the great thinker and founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung: “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”

Thanks to Outpatient.com for use of the image.