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Departments: First Word


The Next Big Thing
Finally, the next big thing is revealed!

by Scott M. Paton



The next big thing is… Gotcha! Admit it, you are reading my column this month because the headline promised to reveal the secret to the next big thing, the next big management stampede to the holy grail, the next big load of… Well, you get the picture.

In the 1980s, it was quality circles and TQM. In the 1990s, it was reengineering and ISO 9000. Now, it’s Six Sigma--still. It seems as though the entire quality profession is holding its breath waiting. At every conference I attend, I’m asked, “What’s the next big thing?” or “What comes after Six Sigma?” or “Isn’t ISO 9000 dead yet?” Apparently editor-in-chiefdom comes with psychic powers that I’ve yet to discover.

I always tell people that they’ll be the first to know as soon as I know what the next big thing is. What I don’t say--to their faces anyway--is, “In the meantime, why don’t you get back to work?”

That’s the problem with next-big-thingism; it prevents the real work from being done. People get so hung up on waiting for something new to pop up that they fail to do the important work in the here and now. “Why bother with maintaining our ISO 9001 registration?” “Six Sigma is passé.” “TQM? Positively prehistoric!”

Most of the big new things of the last 20 or 30 years are just repackaged versions of earlier next big things anyway. Motorola may have given the world Six Sigma, but it owes a lot to Philip Crosby, Armand Feigenbaum, W. Edwards Deming, Joseph M. Juran, Kaoru Ishikawa, Walter Shewhart, Alan Mogensen and a host of others.

But I promised the next big thing, so here it is. First, I’ll need a name for it. The International Organization for Standardization will sue me if I use ISO in the title, so that’s out. And the number with the greek letter combo is definitely not an option. With the huge job losses to China and other Asian nations, I can’t very well use an Asian term. It needs to be politically correct, so it has to be nongender-specific, contain no references to any one particular ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or any other reference that someone, somewhere might find offensive.

I should base it on something that’s popular right now. The Lord of the Rings trilogy swept the Oscars and raked in more than a billion dollars. That’s it! I’ll call it “Lords of Quality.” Quality managers will don robes and set off on a grand adventure across the organization to the top of the ivory tower where the evil senior managers reside. Along the way, they’ll have to battle purchasing managers, design engineers, manufacturing managers and the dreaded internal auditors. (Caution: The training materials for Lords of Quality may be too intense for younger children and older employees.)

Now, I just need to find an egomaniac who looks good in a robe and long beard to go on the lecture circuit and can cast a spell over a few senior managers. Then we’ll publish the books and training videos. Maybe we can get Peter Jackson to direct!

If you don’t like that idea, I’ve got a backup. We recruit young wizards and send them off on a train to a quality academy… I know, I know. Get back to work.