As time progresses, we continue to learn a great deal about quality. We have embedded quality in our processes, our measurement systems, and even our relationships. Although we still have much to learn, one cannot help but marvel at the transforming impact of quality.

The staying power of the quality movement is due in part to the many levels at which it can be applied. Quality has something to offer the most philosophical visionary 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 of the quality movement may also be that it emanates from a simple, yet profound, place that might be called a “quality mindset.” One way to grasp the meaning of a “quality mindset” is through the difference between opinions and ideas. Someone once said their organization had plenty of opinions, but few ideas. It requires neither qualifications nor relevant information to have opinions. A lack of relevant information is exactly the kind of fertile ground that produces a bumper crop of opinions.

Individually, our inventory of opinions can become the things for which we are known. Bundles of pre-packed, sometimes predictable thought that we bring to every situation. We carry them everywhere we go and impose them on others whenever we can. We even treat them like our children! Whoever attempts to challenge our opinions or take them away better BEWARE! 

When projecting an opinion, we are being assertive. The response, though, is often a counter-assertion. If people are in alignment, nothing much happens.  If they are not in alignment, there is usually conflict. 

One cannot help but marvel at the transforming impact of quality.

Those who agree with each other band together to become insiders. Those whose thoughts are not agreeable become the outsiders. This is why opinions tend to become divisive.  Deeply rooted opinions become prejudice. This is just one reason why so many quality initiatives falter. People divide into camps. You are either among the “insiders,” the converted, or the “outsiders,” the non-converted.

One reason that opinions are so persistent is because they serve a very useful purpose in some situations. Public opinion, for example, plays a vital role in our society. We experience that with the democratic process. However, we need to keep in mind 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, an idea tends to inspire other ideas. 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”? Which will create a healthier, more productive workplace?

By its very nature, a business enterprise creates value by taking action. Every product, every process, every improvement is an idea put into action. 

Some will relentlessly hold on to their opinions or use those opinions to vigorously defend themselves. Some of those same people, however, might discount the value of their ideas as being too insignificant or too unformed to merit consideration. To the contrary, it is the “unformed” nature of ideas that makes them such a powerful opening to learning, innovation, and improvement.

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, as such, it is our duty to understand and appreciate the difference. We must design systems, processes and cultures that will make the difference between opinions and ideas noticeable and important to everyone in our organizations. As much as that sounds like an opinion, it is also an idea whose time has come!  

There is a saying I have used often which relates well here: “Ideas germinate faster in the soil of loose thinking.” Let us work the soil, plant the seed, and watch this idea take root and grow. Opinions typically lead to failure, but ideas lead to growth and success. Which mindset do you choose? 

Jim L. Smith has more than 45 years of industry experience in operations, engineering, research & development and quality management.