Tom Peters On Six Sigma Vs. Innovation.

I just caught up to this great post on Tom Peters’ blog that gives historic context to the debate over efficiency vs. creativity that we started in the last issue of Inside Innovation.

It was a story by Brian Hindo on how an ex-GEer put a Six Sigma overlay over 3M, straightened out its processes but hurt its wonderful innovation culture.

Peters points out that in his 1997 book Circle of Innovation, he warmed about Six Sigma. Here’s a piece of what he has to say:

“I was riffing on the problems associated with ISO 9000 certification, and unearthed the perfect quote to match my sentiments, courtesy Richard Buetow, then director of corporate quality for business systems at Motorola:

“With ISO 9000 you can still have terrible processes and products. You can certify a manufacturer that makes life jackets from concrete, as long as those jackets are made according to the documented procedures and the company provides next of kin with instructions on how to complain about defects. That’s absurd.”

What’s particularly interesting about that, in addition to the amusing-but-deadly-serious content, is that the speaker is a Motorolan. Long before Welch at GE, Motorola was the poster child for wholesale adoption of Six Sigma quality processes. And, though the process worked wonders on quality in the short term, it apparently starved innovation, an under-tended priority for historically innovative Motorola—until the RAZR signified a return to corporate roots.”

Peters goes on to point out that 20 years ago, Florida Power & Light was the first US company to get Japan’s famous Deming Award (named after that great quality-control guru W. Edward Deming). What people forget is that the company took off most of those controls several years later because it was choking it to death.

Tom was there in this debate way before we were.

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