The staying power of the quality movement is due in part to the many levels at which quality can be viewed and applied. Quality has something to offer the most philosophical visionary thinker, as well as the most pragmatic tactician. It may be experienced anywhere along a continuum ranging from basic common sense to a near mystical religious conversion.
The appeal and endurance of the quality movement may also be that it emanates from a simple, yet profound place that could be called a quality mindset. While this phrase has an appealing sound, the question is, “So what is it?”
One way to grasp the meaning of a quality mindset is through the difference between opinions and ideas. Everyone has opinions. It requires neither particular qualifications nor relevant information to have opinions. Actually, it seems that a lack of relevant information is exactly the kind of fertile ground that produces a bumper crop of opinions across an organization.
Individually, our inventory of opinions can become the things we are known for, bundles of pre-packed, sometimes predictable thoughts that we bring to every situation. We carry those opinions everywhere we go and express them to others whenever we can. Whoever attempts to challenge our opinions or take them away beware.
When projecting an opinion we are, by definition, being assertive. Asserting oneself is often necessary. The response, though, is often a counter-assertion. If people are not in alignment, some form of conflict typically arises. People who tend to agree with each other, band together and become “insiders.” Those people, whose thoughts are not agreeable, become the “outsiders.” That is why opinions tend to become divisive. Deeply rooted opinions become prejudice. This is a reason why so many quality initiatives falter: people divide into camps. You are either among the insiders, a.k.a the converted, or the outsiders.
Opinions serve a very useful purpose in some situations. Public opinion, for example, plays a vital role in our society. We experience that within the democratic process-opinions and debate are essential here. We need to keep in mind, however, that that is politics. What does that have to do with the business world? Think of how often people leave an organization because it became too “political.” In essence, they are saying that the organization became overrun with opinions and the parochial factions that naturally follow.
Conversely, ideas can create hope, potential and possibilities. Ideas, not opinions, are designed for implementation. Ideas invite action. They provide an opening, rather than a conclusion. Ideas are dynamic while opinions are static. Which will create a genuine quality mindset: idea or opinion? Which will create a healthier, more productive workplace?
By its very nature, a business enterprise creates value by acting on ideas. Every product, every process is the expression of an idea put into action. Despite this, many people in the workplace put a higher value on their opinions rather than on their ideas. Many will relentlessly hold on to opinion or use an opinion to defend themselves rigorously. However, some of those same people might discount the value of their ideas as being too insignificant or too unformed to merit consideration. To the contrary, it is the much unformed nature of ideas that makes them such a powerful opening to greater learning, innovation and improvement.
So what then becomes of the organizations where opinions dominate over ideas? Is the difference one that separates the organizations that aspire to excellence from those that do not? Do some organizations run primarily on opinions while others are more conducive to ideas? Which organization is likely to be more responsive, adaptive and strategically alert?
To say that awareness of this distinction between opinions and ideas has helped change lives may sound a bit grandiose. But, it has. We are all leaders, and it is our duty to understand and appreciate the difference. We must design systems, processes and cultures that will make that difference between opinions and ideas noticeable. As much as that sounds like an opinion, it is also an idea whose time has come.