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Jeff Dewar

Quality Insider

A Galactic Lesson in Quality

If space can be curved, then behaviors can be bent

Published: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - 14:03

Every spot in the photo below is a galaxy, not a star. Each of them contains perhaps 100 billion stars, and along with them, probably hundreds of billions of planets.

The center area is a supercluster of galaxies, colorfully labeled CL 0024 + 1654, which is five billion light years from us. The photons that are hitting your retina when you gaze into the night sky at this supercluster (using our amazing new telescopes), left roughly 500 million years before the planet you’re standing on and our own sun was formed; our solar system is approximately 4.6 billion years old. This boggles the imagination! The civilizations that might have inhabited this supercluster may be long since extinct, as many of the stars in this photo no longer exist—they exhausted their nuclear fuel billions of years ago.

In Professor Lawrence Krauss’ entrancing book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing (Atria Books, 2013), he explains that the blue elongated images to the left of the center are all the same object. They are the highly magnified and distorted images of a galaxy that is an additional five billion light years behind this supercluster. Meaning that this galaxy is 10 billion light years away from us.

How can we see this faraway galaxy not once but multiple times? As Krauss explains, this is due to “gravitational lensing,” and is proof that space curves in the presence of matter. In this case, the mass of of the supercluster is sufficient to cause space to curve in such a way as to act as a lens, like a cut-glass goblet that when held up shows magnified multiple images of the same object. In the absence of this phenomenon, we wouldn’t even know that that galaxy existed, simply because the supercluster was in front of it blocking our view. The math is complex and I deeply admire those that can comprehend it’s magnificence.

The quality corollary

There’s a direct corollary to the phenomenon of space curving in the presence of matter: Behaviors bend in the visible presence of a leader’s commitment to quality. The greater the mass (visibility) of the commitment, the more it bends behaviors.

The unfortunate truth is that the mass of a leader’s commitment is only marginally increased by slogans, policies, training courses, newsletter articles, and so forth. What really matters is how visible the display of commitment is, or more precisely, visible personal interest in the issue at hand.

The great Walt Disney bent the behaviors of his managers and employees by showing his unmistakable passion for fun family cartooning, with his sleeves rolled up working right next to the lowest level cartoonists.

The late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer, constantly displayed his passion for beauty and elegance in design, constantly bending behaviors by leading innovation with his intimate involvement (unlike his three predecessors before returning to Apple in 1997).

Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX debates and argues grand ideas as well as the little details—like his cars’ placement of hinges, rivets, and screw head covers—out on the shop floor. He communicates a passion for a standard that bends behaviors from the chief engineers down to the front-line assembler of Tesla’s breathtaking electric cars.

Herb Kelleher, retired founder of Southwest Airlines, was infamous for his constant trips aboard his airplanes, not travelling so as to be unnoticed, but jumping up to serve drinks and snacks. His visible commitment to playfulness and relaxed interactions with passengers bent the behavior of every employee on that aircraft long after everyone disembarked.

How to curve quality space, aka bend behaviors

Back in my consulting days when I was asked the question literally hundreds of times, “How can we convince everyone that this is not just ‘another’ program that top management is really serious about it?” I would rattle off a laundry list of ideas that I thought were quite clever: Create a quality policy. Inform everyone about the plan. Make sure everyone is trained. Publicize team results. And on and on. But nothing came close in effectiveness to visible personal actions by middle and top management.

At British Columbia Telephone, Vice President Don Champion would faithfully attend the last day of week-long facilitator training classes. He watched the presentations, asked questions, debated, and problem solved, letting me just sit back and manage the agenda. The managers that left that course got more out of that afternoon than they did the entire rest of the week. It permanently bent the behaviors of everyone in the class.

At Sise ve Cam, a bottle and glass works conglomerate in Istanbul, Turkey, I watched the industrial engineering vice president teach part of the course on participative management, displaying his enthusiasm for a new way to treat employees.

At Hawaiian Airlines I watched jaws drop when pilots walked into a week-long class on planning the implementation of quality teams. This was such a shock to the rest of the organization—the mass of the pilots’ commitment was as visible as you could get. It was as though they were of a class beyond mere mortal employees.

At Eskom, the electricity producer in South Africa, the executives asked to be judges of a competition of quality teams, complimenting and (overly) critiquing their performance. I remember that day so well, and if I could have done anything differently, I would have insisted the top executives not sit together at their lunch table, with special treatment and waiters, but rather spread themselves out among the dozens of tables to rub shoulders with the rank and file. But, alas, it was a more genteel era, and that was the custom of the time. Nevertheless, senior management’s involvement in the day was personal, visible, and from a gravitational perspective, massive, in bending the behaviors of all those in the room.

Increase “mass” to bend behavior even more

Physics teaches us that the greater the mass, like the supercluster above, the greater the curvature of space. Professor Krauss explains that with sufficient mass producing gravitational lensing you can see objects that that are behind an object in space. In the same way, increasing the visibility of your leadership’s personal commitment to quality bends the behaviors of the organization, because it changes the way your team looks at the world; it helps them see behind and make sense of your words. It was impossible to be a flight attendant on a Southwest Airlines flight with Herb Kelleher on board having fun serving passengers peanuts, and not feel the contagiousness of his joy and laughter... and the mass of his commitment to customer service.

Finally, I recently found myself momentarily speechless when reading a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that I recall from decades ago; it was as though he was instructing management on the essence of how they can show deep and intimate commitment to a company endeavor:
“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”


About The Author

Jeff Dewar’s picture

Jeff Dewar

Jeff Dewar is CEO of Millennium 360 Inc., Quality Digest’s parent company. During his career he has presented quality-related topics to thousands of people on six continents, all but Antarctica.


Matter Curves Space

Jeff, as we discussed yesterday, this is a great analogy that likely applies to many areas in life with quality & leadership standing at the forefront. The mysteries of the cosmos are only mysterious for a short period, then the power of the human intellect and ability to reason determines that they are mysteries no longer. Quality leadership seems to be a much harder mystery to solve. This is undoubtedly because the subtleties of human interaction are a product of biology, based on chemistry, underpinned by Quantum Mechanics. At the Quantum level the mysteries deepen to the point where reason and logic fail us. You have done a great job of shining a light on the tapestry of human interaction. Walk behind the tapestry and the bizarre tangle of strings and threads undermine the beauty of other side. The process of understanding quality leadership is similar deciphering to the back side of the tapestry. It is a monumental task yet that is what we must do. The Galactic Lesson in Quality advances the cause substantially. 

Yes, they do

All that's needed to disprove the "leaders do not bend behavior" assertion is the history of Starbucks. Look up what happened when Howard left for a while, and what happened when he returned. Or Apple with Steve Jobs. Or NUMMI with the Japanese management, using UAW workers. Behavior changed due to the personal commitment and examples of the leaders.

My behavior has definitely been "bent" by the drive and example of leaders in my life. I don't want to be like my company president, or my Aikido instructor, or my running coach, but thanks to their influence I'm a more disciplined person and have accomplished more than I thought I ever could. Isn't that the definition of a true leader?

Jeff J.

People do what the boss tells

People do what the boss tells them to do. Some bosses are "better" than others at running things. This is not proof of bending.

leaders do not bend

no one's behavior is bent by a leader. Leaders attract like minded people who wish to be like the leader they follow. No one follows a leader they do not like and cannot be "bent" to do so.