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Paul Naysmith

Quality Insider

Are You a Quality Punk?

I'm here to bring on the Quality Punk scene for the 2010s.

Published: Monday, August 15, 2011 - 11:08

In the mid 1970s to mid 1980s the Punk movement was an intensely bright burning star that fizzled out just as quickly as it came in. As I understand it, the Punk movement was the antidote to the excessive color and pageantry of the Glam Rock scene. Punk music was stripped back, rockin’ in your face, with full-on aggression. If you were really good, the crowd would riot, and fights would instantly break out. Gobbing on your band (spitting in their face) was a sign of appreciation. Those were the days. In the UK, the timing of this new music scene was coincidental to political change and de-industrialization of the British landscape. Disillusioned youth and mass unemployment only heightened the anti-establishment Punk ethos, creating waves of shock across the world, whilst without a care, Punk was flicking the middle finger at authority.

By now (hopefully) you are wondering “where is he going with this column” and “what the heck has gobbing got to do with quality?” Good.

There was another subculture evolving at the same time, born of an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and disbelief in the system. As with Punk, its popularity quickly grew, and then it sputtered out just as fast. I'm talking about the 1980s total quality management (TQM) wave, the 1990s ISO 9001 crowd, and the 2000s Six Sigma belts.

Punk died because it was a fashion; but the Punk ideology lived on. It is the same with quality fashions. Many have performed research or written very successful books on the latest quality fashion, and while those fashions will eventually die, quality thinking is eternal. Quality thinking is the philosophy of “what we’ve got here just isn’t right” or “could we do things in a different and better way?” Well, I’m here to bring on the Quality Punk scene for the 2010s. But, please hold off from making an appointment at the hairdressers for a spiky blue-tipped Mohawk, as I would doubt you would be welcome in most boardrooms.

Let us start with the founding fathers of the Quality Punk scene: I can think of some great people through time that went against the grain, that didn’t agree with the principles or thinking at the time, and subsequently we are still talking about their achievements today:
• Galileo Galilei, father of modern physics and a Quality Punk. Through empirical observations he proved that the earth wasn’t at the center of the universe. He is credited to be the first to employ the scientific approach of applying mathematics with experimentation. He is a Quality Punk, because his teachings were contrary to the teachings of the 17th century Church.
• Sir Ronald Fisher, founder of modern statistical thinking and Quality Punk. By taking a systematic approach to “real” data, he created new statistical methods including analysis of variance and design for experiments. He is a Quality Punk, since he introduced a new theory to why civilizations fall, going against then common ideas, using evidence from data he had.
• Henry Ford, industrialist and Quality Punk. His philosophy was to pay high salaries to his employees, with the knowledge that they could buy his affordable automobiles. Quality Punk extraordinaire, he was the first to create an entirely plastic car that would run on bio-fuel at the beginning of the 1940s.


I would have to admit that sometimes I choose not to take the conventional approach to business, and perhaps I see the world slightly differently than my colleagues. Sometimes I’ve found that my quality idea would get lost or lose its impact if I didn't add a little “Punk” to it. As a well-trained Quality Ninja Assassin, you would no doubt agree that you have to be flexible in style, yet make a devastating killer impact when called to. A Quality Ninja has to carry weapons; these weapons are concealed and very sneaky. My weapon of choice: neon-colored socks. Oh yeah, how Punk is that?

It’s not how you wear the socks, however; it’s when you deploy them. In my case, I cherished the meeting with Mr. "D" Manager to deploy the sock tactic. D is for Dominator. You know the type, the person who likes to use management buzz words like “two-way conversation,”... as long as both ways are his.

The first time I deployed operation "Neon Sock Punking" was in a meeting where Mr. D was giving his all, like an angry beaver biting at a tree trunk. I saw that he was passionate about actually wanting to make an improvement, but wasn’t winning over some of the other stakeholders in the room. So I waited for the perfect moment to launch my secret weapon. In the middle of his arm-waving and desk-thumping I feigned the need to tie my shoe lace. As I am a giant stick insect of a man, I could easily lift my (praying mantis-like) leg and place the sole of my shoe on the chair seat, thus revealing my sock weapon. Trousers riding high up my shins, I exposed the retina-scorching colors of my sock to everyone in the room.

Mr. D's eyes locked onto this sock, transfixed like a stunned squirrel looking at a mighty oak bristling with nuts. I pounced into action in his momentary pause: “So we agree we need to move forward. Let us all agree on the appropriate actions and timelines. Wouldn’t you agree Mr D Manager?” Everyone, relieved that I had interjected, quickly agreed with what I said: I suspect just to get on with their day. Mr. D snapped out of his paralysis, all confused, as if woken from a dream. “Erm, what was I saying... yes, good plan Paul!” He was Quality Punked like a good ‘un.

I have tried other Quality Punk approaches, and failed; however, I have learned from them. What’s good about taking the learning approach is that I have to be innovative and creative all the time, and I cherish that challenge with all the wonderful managers I meet.

Quality improvement is about changing the status quo, and each approach will be different in any scenario or business. As someone once said “good, just isn’t good enough.” We have to move forward, because if we don’t, our competition will stride out in front and our customers will raise their expectations beyond our reach. I have learned to not immediately follow whatever the latest fashion is, but to try to understand where it originated. It most cases, fashions do repeat themselves, whereas core values or philosophies are perpetual and need to be sustained. I only need to look at the recent high profile failures, created when core values were replaced by management working to the current fashion, to confirm my point of view.

To establish if you are a Quality Punk, please answer yes or no to the following questions:
• Have you ever challenged the “system”?
• Are you unlikely to believe what you are told or take things on at face value?
• Have you ever asked “Why”?
• Do you agree with continuous improvement for mutual benefit?
• Do you have a rockin’ good time when making improvements?
• Would you agree that some quality professionals are slaves to ISO 9001 and forget why they are in business?
• Have you ever flicked the finger at the “man”?
• Do you have a tattoo of “PDCA,” on your face or another visible body part?
• Have you ever spat in the face of a colleague, out of respect, for the work they have done?


If you answered “No” to any of these questions, you are not a Quality Punk, and have some way to progress. However if you flicked the finger at the computer screen and shouted "I’m not going to work to your rules!” congratulations you are a Quality Punk in the 2010s.


About The Author

Paul Naysmith’s picture

Paul Naysmith

Paul Naysmith is the author of Business Management Tips From an Improvement Ninja and Business Management Tips From a Quality Punk. He’s also a Fellow and Chartered Quality Professional with the UK’s Chartered Quality Institute (CQI), and an honorary member of the South African Quality Institute (SAQI). Connect with him at www.paulnaysmith.com, or follow him on twitter @PNaysmith.

Those who have read Paul’s columns might be wondering why they haven’t heard from him in a while. After his stint working in the United States, he moved back to his homeland of Scotland, where he quickly found a new career in the medical-device industry; became a dad to his first child, Florence; and decided to restore a classic car back to its roadworthy glory. With the help of his current employer, he’s also started the first-of-its-kind quality apprenticeship scheme, which he hopes will become a pipeline for future improvement ninjas and quality punks.


What me Punk?

I was doing ok until the tatoo and the spitting. I don't suppose droolling on occasion fits the bill...

No Tattoos here either

I answered "yes" to most of the questions but spitting is not in my repertoire. I did enjoy the article and have met Mr. D at least once.

Donna J. Ritter