Improvement is often described as an individual undertaking. The industry of self-help––diet, exercise, productivity, etc.––describes methods to improve oneself. But what if the secret to securing self-improvement were to improve others? “But Newton belonged to the pre-Newtonian world,” writes James Gleick. Interesting concept––those capable of improving society do their work amidst those incapable of letting go of the practices of the past. This explains stasis and inertia. “We’ve done it this way, it’s always worked, it’s all we’ve known––so why change?”
Baseline and point of departure are not unrelated concepts. They’re both a stepping point, combining “what is” with “what is to be”––and they’re best ascertained from a visualized point somewhere in the future. A first task, however, is to combine the two, asking: Where are we starting from? What first steps are necessary to move forward?
“TQM [Total Quality Management] consists of 11 critical key elements among others, strategically based, customer focus, obsession with quality, scientific approach, long-term commitment, teamwork, continual process improvement, education and training, freedom through control, unity of purpose, and employee involvement and empowerment (Goetsch & Davis, 2016).”
So, what are the characteristics of an effective first step? Initial questions include: Is genuine progress occurring? Is what’s being attempted of significance? What distance has in fact been traveled? A stepping off point can be deemed an improvement but only in instances where the outcome remains uncertain. If one’s final destination is still within reach, still easily visible, then perhaps one’s first step is not necessarily a true first step at all. The risk of the unknown must continue to exert its force.
Probably any first step requires some degree of discomfort, a movement away, a reckoning. One simple mental measure of tolerating this outer direction: developing a sense of detachment to the task at hand as well as to oneself.
Which leads to this: controlled versus uncontrolled lines. Should pure chance be part of the process? Uncertainty, doubt––one’s direction guided by directionless methods. “An idea is a point of departure and no more. As soon as you elaborate it, it becomes transformed by thought.” ––Pablo Picasso. Perhaps the secret, then, is not to elaborate.
“Customer focus becomes a significant factor for the success of an organization because it is a starting point of any quality initiative…In measuring customer satisfaction, service quality is the most important…” Care, quality, client-centered––we’ve all heard these before, but none can be approached in a rote manner. That’s the trouble with a manual or worksheet. Simply placing a checkmark next to a box may not be the last step.
Improvement can consist of incremental refinements––or wholesale transformation of an entire process. Or perhaps some combination of the two. There are improvements capable, as well as incapable, of being measured. Certain kinds of improvements are illusory––and certain kinds are perceptible only after genuinely great and extraordinary progress has been made. Ah, that last. A somewhat harsh way of the world––so many miles to traverse before the results of our efforts become visible. Which is why so many stop before reaching their destination. Large efforts are made over long stretches with no discernable results. No signposts either while you’re traveling. A North Star to show the way? Yes, perhaps: to fix your compass, to search the horizon––and to take that first step.
James Gleick, Isaac Newton, Pg. 100 (Vintage 2003).
Quotations from Yuni Pambreni, Ali Khatibi, S. M. Ferdous Azam, Jacquline Tham, The Influence of Total Quality Management Toward Organization Performance, Management Science Letters 9 (2019) 1397–1406