Paul Laughlin’s picture

By: Paul Laughlin

The latest book I'm reviewing is about data and critical thinking, and it often makes you laugh. Alongside Moonwalking With Einstein (Penguin, 2011), it’s in the traditional Penguin paperback size and ideal to take with you anywhere. It’s so enjoyable you'll want to complete it ASAP. The writing style is warm, human, and packed with entertaining examples.

Apologies for my language, but this book focuses on a key challenge of our times: calling bullshit on lies. To put it more diplomatically, developing the critical thinking skills to spot and challenge misinformation.

Calling Bullshit book cover

The Un-Comfort Zone With Robert Wilson’s picture

By: The Un-Comfort Zone With Robert Wilson

During the past decade, I’ve seen several dozen variations of the following urban legend posted online:

A large oceangoing ship stalled at sea when its engine broke down. None of the shipboard maintenance crew could repair it, so the shipping company helicoptered a consultant out to the stranded ship. The grizzled old ship mechanic with 40 years experience carefully inspected the engine from top to bottom. He then took a small hammer from his tool bag and gently tapped the engine, which immediately roared back to life. He then told the ship’s captain, “That will be $20,000.” “What?!” cried the captain, “You hardly did anything. I demand a detailed bill.” The mechanic jotted briefly on a scrap of paper and handed it to him. It read: Tap with a hammer: $2; knowing where to tap: $19,998.

I believe this story is so popular because it resonates with people who are still paying their dues and looking forward to the day when they, too, will have mastered the skill set necessary to do a job with ease and aplomb while receiving the big bucks.

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

By: Gleb Tsipursky

Any association would love a member-retention rate of 75 percent. Unfortunately, according to a 2017 report cited in the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) publication, Associations Now, retention rates for all associations are falling. While in 2016, 73 percent of associations surveyed in the report had member-retention rates above 75 percent, in 2017 only 65 percent reached that rate. The numbers for new members are even lower, given the consequences of the pandemic.

Certainly, these numbers are concerning. Yet statistics make it hard to grasp the lived experience of new members. So let me share the story of someone who recently joined, and then left, an association.

A new-member story

Sharon recently graduated from college, secured a quality position, and joined a national association of more than 30,000 members. Her main reasons for joining:
• Becoming part of a community of peers
• Networking with others
• Accessing vetted learning opportunities

She got a useful welcome email with resources from the association. She appreciated the discounts on webinars, her preferred method of learning as an introvert.

Donald J. Wheeler’s picture

By: Donald J. Wheeler

On the face of it, it seems to be impossible for skewed variables to add up to a normally distributed result. Yet both common experience and mathematical theory combine to show us that this does indeed happen. In fact it is a fundamental property of probability theory which, in turn, explains the robustness of the process behavior chart.

What happens when we add variables?

Consider a pair of dice used in games of chance. Each die has six faces with each face showing from one to six spots. If the die is a fair die, we expect each face will turn up approximately the same number of times in any series of repeated rolls. Here we say that each outcome between one and six is equally likely and expect any histogram to look something like figure 1.

Figure 1: Outcomes for the roll of one die
Figure 1: Outcomes for the roll of one die

Now think about what happens when we roll a pair of dice. The sum of the spots showing will range from two to 12. But are all 11 of these outcomes equally likely? No. With an honest pair of dice we expect a histogram like that in figure 2.

Kate Zabriskie’s picture

By: Kate Zabriskie

They’re with me, I just know it, at least I think they’re with me... OK, maybe not. Oh no! They’re gone. Well, thank goodness that’s over!

Has that happened to you? How about the following:

• I addressed this issue 30 minutes ago. How did they forget so soon? They have minds like sieves—easy in and easy out. Frustrating!

• He seemed surprised when I called on him. It’s his area of expertise. He kind of recovered, but imagine what would have happened if he hadn’t known the topic. Frankly, it wasn’t a great moment for either of us.

Too often, trainers, facilitators, and speakers think people are with them and retaining information, but in truth, they’ve misheard, drawn incorrect conclusions, taken mental vacations to the Bahamas, or worse.

Fortunately, fixing those problems isn’t as tough as it may initially seem. When used consistently, anchors, signposts, echoes, and loops can help improve the clarity and stickiness of a message. These four devices help people find their way to understanding the message, hear instructions or key messages more than once, and recall earlier messages.

Kurt Matzler’s picture

By: Kurt Matzler

In 1938, MIT student Claude Shannon solved one of the most complex problems of circuit design. Working on an early analog computer, he realized that an idea from an undergraduate philosophy course could solve the problem. Applying Boolean algebra, Shannon laid the foundation of all electronic digital computers. As he put it: “It just happened that no one else was familiar with both fields at the same time.”

You may think that this was one of those lucky coincidences that change the world but almost never happen. You are wrong. In his book Seeing What Others Don’t (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2013), Gary Klein studied 120 of the most important inventions and discoveries in history: 82 percent of them emerged when people from different disciplines started to talk to each other and exchanged ideas.

Follow some simple rules, and you may see what others don’t as well.

Start talking to strangers

At the beginning of the 20th century, Vienna was a hotbed for new ideas. At the center of this explosion of thoughts was the Wiener Kreis (Vienna circle), an interdisciplinary group of philosophers and scientists that met fortnightly.

Arron Angle’s picture

By: Arron Angle

I just received and read the “2021 ASQE Insights on Excellence Executive Brief.” The brief examines how quality initiatives are progressing in the digital era, based on the views and experiences of 542 executives and quality professionals from global enterprises. Here we go again, I thought.

Yes, technology drives change, change drives new quality issues, and new quality issues drive quality professionals to come up with new quality performance metrics and enhancements. I’ve read these same platitudes for years. We believe that systemic issues of quality can be solved with new programs, new spreadsheets, or new ways to calculate quality performance. Obviously, some of the solutions hit the root cause of a specific issue. But the systemic factor, which has always been present and is at the heart of all matters of quality as technology drives change, is management.

Management in most companies is the root cause of not keeping up with technology or the market, or the generational changes needed as younger employees are hired. It’s all about culture and behaviors. As an example, let’s compare and contrast safety and quality.

Rick Grimaldi’s picture

By: Rick Grimaldi

Employee engagement has been a boardroom buzzword for quite some time. We’ve long known engagement matters. Still, the unspoken “but” has always been that metrics—especially those of the performance and financial ilk—matter more. Now, with the workplace talent shortage at a 10-year high, the time is right for a major shift in this “metrics-first” attitude.

Having negotiated hundreds of labor agreements myself, I see firsthand what attracts and retains employees. As leverage keeps shifting toward employees, companies scramble to offer new benefits and put all sorts of expensive retention programs in place—but they’re missing the one thing they should be doing.

As I negotiate contracts, one thing I hear all the time is that employees “don’t feel cared about.” The key to winning the war for talent might be simpler than many employers realize. It’s not just about paying more. It’s about putting engagement at the center of everything.

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

By: Gleb Tsipursky

Organizations will need to pivot their corporate culture if they wish to survive and thrive in the world of virtual collaboration after the pandemic. The most important changes will stem from the wide-scale and permanent shift to hybrid and fully remote modes of working.

Between 65 percent to 75 percent of employers intend to have a mainly hybrid schedule, with a minority of staff fully remote. This is being led by large companies that announced a permanent switch. Combining hybrid and fully remote work largely matches what employees want.

Donald J. Wheeler’s picture

By: Donald J. Wheeler

Management requires prediction. However, when making predictions it is easy to torture the data until they surrender and tell you what you expect to hear. Even though this torture may be unintentional, it can keep you from hearing the story the data could tell. This column is about how to avoid torturing your data while making predictions.

A few years ago a correspondent sent me the data for the number of major North Atlantic hurricanes for a 65-year period. Major hurricanes are those that make it up to category 3 or higher. I have updated this data set to include the number of major hurricanes through 2021. The counts of these major hurricanes are shown in a histogram in figure 1. In what follows we shall look at two approaches to using these data to make predictions.

Figure 1: Major North Atlantic hurricanes per year, 1935–2021
Figure 1: Major North Atlantic hurricanes per year, 1935–2021

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