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Departments: First Word

 

  
   

It's Our 24th Anniversary!

We're not even 25, and already we're losing our memory.

by Dirk Dusharme

 

 

Well, this is embarrassing. Some of you may have read September's "First Word," where I announced that our November issue would be commemorating the 25th anniversary of Quality Digest. Well, I never said which November that would be, now did I?

Oh, we had big plans, let me tell you: Comments from past contributors, excerpts from old issues proclaiming "TQM is dead!," "ISO 9000 is a fad" and "Reengineering will save industry!" We were going to trot out all the notables who had been past contributors to the magazine: Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Tom Peters, Karl Albrecht and others. We even had a special 25th-anniversary starburst on the cover. Yep, yep, yep. It was going to be quite the celebration.

With a jaunty air we foraged through storage and reverently pulled out of the stack the first issue of Quality Circle Digest, the virgin issue, numero uno, the genesis of Quality Digest. We carefully blew off the dust and read the date… umm… November 1981. Let's see now… 2005 minus 1981… five minus one is four… borrow the one, makes 10, minus the eight… Doh! Curses on that base-10 math. Perhaps if I switched to octal. Shoot! (If only humans had 9.5 fingers, we wouldn't be in this situation.)

Surely this couldn't be something as simple as sheer stupidity on our part. I quickly picked up the latest issue and noted the volume and issue number--volume 25, issue number 10. According to this, our 25th anniversary should be January 2006, not November 2005. Our institutional knowledge, however, was that Quality Digest started in November and the issue number had been jogged at some point as a convenience designed to align with the month. So the mistake was somewhat understandable, but how did it get there to begin with?

"Quick," I shouted across the room. "Find me the first copy of the magazine that has a volume and issue number."

Nothing but butts and elbows as we madly pawed through the pile. The dust settled and I was handed the March 1994 issue: volume 14, number 3. Still off by one year. Well, at least we were able to count correctly for the past decade or so. But that doesn't answer the question as to how we were off by one entire year in our numbering in the first place.

This is the problem when you rely on institutional memory. As valuable as it is, it sometimes has scant basis in reality. None of us currently working for Quality Digest was around at the beginning, so we'd trusted a combination of "fact" (the current volume number) and institutional memory (the magazine began in November) to arrive at November 2005 as our 25th anniversary.

It's so silly. The proper step, from the very beginning, would have been to pull the first issue of the magazine from storage. That would have provided us with the facts. But, as so often happens, we drew a conclusion based upon a blend of myth and fact--one that had been around for a long time. Just to be honest here, we had been talking about this "25th anniversary" issue for an entire year. Oi!

Has this happened in your workplace? Have you ever based production or process decisions on group "knowledge" without verifying that knowledge with hard data? Am I alone? Please say it
ain't so.