Balance is one of those tricky concepts which appears on the surface quite simple yet is often deceptively difficult to grasp. In its more common forms, like standing up and walking about, we never give it a second thought. There are scant few of us however who would conclude that because we can walk we’re qualified to perform in the Cirque du Soleil. If reading is one of your hobbies you’ve no doubt encountered reverence for the notion of balance from the likes of Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Ben Franklin, and W. Edwards Deming, to name a few. And just why is that?

My personal take on why some of the brighter individuals who’ve graced this planet recognized the majesty of balance is that they, through years of study and reflection, realized that a system is more than the sum of its individual components. Systems, regardless of whether we’re talking about the human body, manufacturing, or the chow line in the cafeteria, are driven not only by the individual components comprising them but also by the interaction of these internal components and the external forces acting upon them.

I mention this because today I encountered some “tips” written by a well respected leader in the operations management field deriding the principles of one improvement philosophy in favor of another. His favored approach, a GOAL oriented project managementapproach which coincidently is where his paycheck originates, emphasizes technology while the other is more of a manual approach developed through years of practice (at Toyota, hint, hint). The funny thing about his comments is that both of these systems have a lot to offer and work very well together; particularly if one is knowledgeable about one discipline and chooses to cross-pollinate some brain cells by engaging an expert in the other. In fact, save for differences in terminology, they are philosophical, though maybe not identical, twins.

What I’m trying to say is that a one size fits all approach to improving systems and/or processes is very limiting and short-sighted. I’ve been doing the Master Black Belt thing about ten years now and along the way I’ve learned as much about things not specifically “Six Sigma” as I have about the discipline itself. I don’t know many true experts and I don’t consider myself one. What I do know is that if you are committed to the role, you have signed up for an intellectual journey that never ends. True expertise in this field is elusive and only comes with years of exploration and experience. As soon as you close the door to new ideas or alternative theories you risk losing your balance. I don’t suggest jumping every bandwagon that comes along but I don’t suggest settingthem on fire without consideration either. Just as a system requires the right balance of inputs and timing to produce the desired output, your effectiveness as a Black Belt requires a balanced skill set.

Explore intelligently, Michael

P.S. – Cirque du Soleil won’t hire you for tying yourself up in knots over missing data points; I guess they’re just not ready to push the entertainment envelope.

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