Managing Your Life

If you had to choose the most responsible person for the frentic pace of modern times, the best choice would probably be Taylor. You know, Frederick Winslow Taylor. Or perhaps you don’t. Not to Worry. I’d forgotten, too. But at the recent International Conference on Business & Consciousness in Santa Fe, Clare Crawford Mason, author of Quality or Else!: The Revolution in World Business, reminded me that Taylor was once the world’s most renowned efficiency expert.

Taylor observed traditional skilled artisans building products one at a time, analyzes their motions, and separated each move into a separate, relatively unskilled job, thus creating the more efficient method of assembly line production. There appeared to be nothing that Taylor could not break down and speed up. He provided the groundwork for the likes of Henry Ford, creating the huge production capabilities that would help win World War II.

Along the way, Taylor’s quest for efficiency reshaped our system of education. To fill the expanding factories, schools promulgated rigid hierarchies, and the ability to sit still obediently for long periods and perform endless repetitive tasks.

Today, every drive through fast-food place is a tribute to Taylor. Jobs at such places are designed with no learning curve, so one’s first day’s production is the same as one’s last. That makes for food that’s quick and cheap, but one doesn’t want to look closely at the mandated smiles or think deeply about what goes into the meal.

What’s missing in the fast-food experience—caring, health, concern for the environment—is the ongoing business revolution of our new century. It actually began more than fifty years ago with quality pioneer W. Edwards Deming, who realized that dehumanizing a workforce created a factory that was less than the sum of its parts. Deming figured that if everyone on an assembly line could be supported to work as one—to care as much about the final product as the former lone artisan—the workers would be happier, the assembly line would be more efficient, and the final products would be better.

Ignored in this country, Deming went to Japan just after World War II. He preached a gospel of quality to the war-ravaged country, and within four years his practices pushed Japan’s exports higher than imports. Within a generation, Deming and his disciples had created an economic powerhouse, now the world’s number-two economy. The biggest business prize in Japan is the Deming Prize, and this year one of his model companies, Toyota, will probably become of of America’s top-three automakers.

“So what?” you say. “Why should a spiritually concerned person pay attention to the ‘humanizing’ management practices of Deming-based major multinationals?” The answer is that all the years of super-efficient production have provided us with so many possibilities and choices that, ironically, living an authentic, conscious life nowadays probably requires us to manage our selves like enlightened modern multinationals.

The person who really brought this idea home is Matthew Cross, a colleague of Clare Crawford Mason and president of a consulting group called Leadership Alliance in Stamford, Connecticut. Cross describes himself as a Deming disciple, and his path has been appropriate. His parents read Summerhill, a utopian book published in 1960, and were inspired by its authors arguments against the regimentation of modern school systems, so young Cross ended up being homeschooled from age six. Instead of going to college, Cross entered business, where he was an early success, first as a natural-foods broker, the with a venture involving gift kiosks for Greenpeace, and then within a company that helped launch the Discover Card. Next, Cross discovered Deming and set out to inspire the world.

Cross became a trainer of Hoshin, a Japanese word roughly meaning both internal compass and personal North Star. Hoshin is a practice inspired by Deming, designed to break through apparent chaos to find a hidden higher order and direction. In traditional team Hoshin workshops, perhaps fifteen corporate leaders are brought together. They start by asking a big question, such as how they can become the most successful automakers or how their company might best reflect their values, Then everyone in the group comes up with multiple answers.

All the answers—there can be hundreds—are written on Post-It notes. Then the real work begins. Which answers are related? (They go in the same column). Which answer drives another? (The driver” gets priority). Gradually, through dialogue and discovery, the answers are organized in columns, and the priorities become clear. Typically, everyone is surpised by where the process ends up, and that creates tremendous coherence on the part of the team. There is a letting go of territories and a huge release of energy.

Cross led Hoshin retrearts at major companies for a couple of years before he led himself through the group process. Many hours and 70 Post-Its later, he knew he was onto something. Then he tried it on friends and family. Then he created worshops and public seminars. He found that families would do it together. So could lovers. Nowadays Cross does his traditional Hoshin training with top corporate execs and then leads large groups through his daylong Personal Hoshin™ program.

At the conference in Santa Fe, Cross led a group of personal coached through a condensed version of the process. Afterward we asked if he could create a version for the magazine, and he enthusiastically agreed.

Article written by Stephen  Kiesling, Spirituality and Health