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In: Philosophy and Psychology

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BY Kurt StuKe

The Unending Search
Transformation in quality as a ‘thing in the making’
RECENTLY, STEPHEN K. Hacker wrote that “many of our organizations remain mired in their current states, frozen in old mindsets.” To free our organizations and

What follows is a contrast of the current grammar and its tacit assumptions concerning knowing, being and meaning to a different grammar born in the experiential-based philosophy of William James. The difference between grammars and the importance of the difference in the reconstruction of transformation and quality is explored.

knower and thing known is usually referred to as the subject or object split within philosophy. The self or knower within such a vision is always distinct and apart from the world. The essential rationality and immutability of knowing and being within the traditional mindset lends itself to quantitative methods and statistical tools. You can progress safely through the define, measure, analyze, improve and control cycle—or choose not to—because the universe as defined through the traditional grammar is inherently knowable and predictable. You can differentiate between common cause and special-cause variation, and, by extension, processes that are in control and out of control because of the assumed stability within knowing, being and meaning. Language and meaning within these horizons also are based in antecedent truths. If you have the correct name of a thing, you have insight into the very essence of a thing because the name corresponds to the unchanging truth of a thing. If the correspondence is errant, you must identify the appropriate noun or adjective, and realign your knowledge. Within this vision, substantives are primary; verbs are important only when they somehow reflect the unchanging essence of the thing in question. Nouns reflect the static quality of truth as they themselves are inert. Such a view cannot help but stress the disjunction of things in terms of being and knowing. Accordingly, transformation is not understood as doing and as a verb, but as a noun and as an accomplished state. For example, transformation in quality is reached after the goal of the project charter is attained. While the goal may be lost if a control plan is inadequate, transformation

ourselves from such paralysis, Hacker exhorted the reader to contemplate how we and our organizations answer questions such as, “Who am I?” and “What constitutes truth?” For Hacker and me—I agree with his comments—the possibility of transformation begins with an introspective review of the assumptions upon which our mindset depends. Is the notion of transformation itself, however, a reflection of an old mindset? Consider Hacker’s definition of transformation: “The marked change in the nature or function of organizational systems creating discontinuous, step-function improvement in sought-after result areas.”

Transformation as a thing made
According to the current grammar, truth may be considered as the highest good or the very point of quality. Truth might be expressed as the reduction of waste, the minimization of variance, the adherence to a specific standard, or even in terms of the voice of the customer. In all instances, however, quality is an expression of some sort of established truth. Within the current state mindset, truth is a thing that’s made. By necessity, then, this mindset must orient itself to that which comes before. In short, the mindset is rearfacing. The universe, within such a mindset, is rational, knowable and safe. The eternal and unchanging truth is always lurking. Meaning exists and is a fixed and knowable point. Within such a mindset, not

Note that “marked change” is a noun that refers to a complete state. In short, Hacker defined transformation as a noun. But is transformation better expressed as a noun or

a verb? While this question may seem like a superficial grammatical distinction better left to high school and undergraduate English courses, what is at stake is grammar at the most discrete level. That is, the rules and metaphilosophical assumptions supporting how you understand transformation—or the grammar informing the very discourse concerning transformation and, by extension, quality itself— govern quietly whether you understand transformation as a noun or a verb.

only is finding the correct answer possible, but the response, once found, may apply to all knowers across all contexts. The worth of quality, according to this grammar, is centered in definitional clarity. The clearer the definition, the more value quality offers. Such a framing assumes a clear distinction between knower and thing known. The individual is the knower (or subject), and the thing known is the object; both are things made. The clear and distinct separation between

12 QP •

is said to have occurred but was not maintained. Similarly, improving a process to meet critical-to-quality requirements or to meet any of the external standards is typically framed as transformation within the field of quality. As Hacker noted, transformation is a “marked change.”5 In one of his later works, James wrote, “What really exists is not things made, but things in the making. Once made, they are dead, and an infinite number of alternative conceptual decompositions can be used in defining them.”

reconstructed as creative engagement, or better yet, as procreative engagements with the world. Knowing is an action that comes to life within the tissue of experience.6 As noted by James in Pragmatism, the function of a living philosophy (and of a living quality) is to discover the concrete differences to “somebody, somehow, somewhere, and somewhen.”7

to the concreteness of a given moment.

What’s the difference?
While disparaging abstraction and the philosophical assumptions upon which the current mindset rests, the allure is obvious. Stability, definitional clarity and predictability are all extremely valuable. What sense of improvement or transformation, and of quality, can survive in a mindset turned from these attributes toward plurality, the vague and unbounded contingency? Desired outcomes, goals and best practices: All of these often touted entities are better understood as verbs and not as nouns. They are moving targets, and as fluid as human moods and organizational context. Quality, when glimpsed from within the Jamesian mindset, is a fleeting and constantly moving nexus among these forces. The seductive promise of control and command is not offered from such a temporary stay. In its place, a prescription for more work—to search constantly for the “lived” meaning—is offered. While such arduous and relentless work comes at the price of theoretical clarity, in its place is the genuine possibility to make a concrete difference to “somebody, somehow, somewhere and somewhen.”8 QP
1. Stephen K. Hacker, “Change Ability,” Quality Progress, August 2012, pp. 16 -20. 2. Ibid, p. 19. 3. William James, A Pluralistic Universe, 1909, Harvard university Press, p. 117. 4. William James, Principles of Psychology, Vol. II, 1890,Harvard university Press, p. 947. 5. William James, Religious Variety of Experiences, 1902, Harvard university Press, p. 393. 6. William James, Essays in Radical Empiricism, 1912, Harvard university Press, p. 29. 7. William James, Pragmatism, 1907, Harvard university Press, p. 30. 8. Ibid.

Transformation reconstructed
Within the Jamesian mindset, transformation is troped; it is moved from a static centering in the past to an indeterminate sliding and futuretensed focalization within the stream of experience. Evaluating transformation within the flow and ebb of experience reaps some profound insights: • Transformation is never completed; it is a thing always in the making; the golden carrot as promised in future-state transformation is an illusion based on abstraction. • The end-state is also illusory; what is to follow only can be intimated and can never be fixed according to some antecedent understanding. • There is no objective scale upon which or against which to evaluate transformation; transformation will possess positive and negative characteristics, but appreciating the mix is whimsical and dependent upon numerous and changing factors, mood and context. • The lived experience takes precedence over the cognitive within the flow of transformation. • The experiences born from transformation can and should be shared; sharing these vivid sorts of experiences are profoundly human and deeply rewarding—even if not always joyous. • In the end, transformation cannot be defined in terms of what rewards it will reap, but by the openness of the person

James, like American writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau before him, rejected the mindset that reality is static and fixed. Things, such as organizations and the humans within them, are wonderfully diverse and marvelously inconsistent. Growth and change—and the transformations sought through quality— are seldom linear, rarely static and tend to ride us more than we ride them. The plurality suggested by James’ phrase of “thing in the making” seems a better description of being than the singularity suggested by “thing made.” According to James, how you know also is colored by the incessant plurality that you are and that you experience. What is real for James is more aptly described as a “fringe.”4 A “fact” is similarly reconstructed from a fixed objective and singular incontestable piece of information to a “conscious field plus its object as felt or thought of plus an attitude towards the object plus the sense of the self to whom the attitude belongs.”5 Thus, for James, a knower is never separate from the thing known. Within concrete reality, you color that which you know with your purpose and intent, and, in turn, are joined through experience with that which is experienced. Knowing and being are, therefore,

KURT STUKE is a director of operations for AdeccoUSA. He holds a doctorate in leadership from Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, NH. Stuke is an ASQ member (Granite State Chapter) and a certified quality auditor and manager.

February 2013 • QP 13…...

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