Relax, Dan Brown.

The mayor of Fort Wayne is not a career politician, but a career consultant. (Pause to let snickers build.) Yes, and whoever said a consultant is a man who knows 150 ways to make love but can’t find a partner? Got that right. Fort Wayne Observed posts an interview with the mayor, who reveals he’s writing a book. A memoir? No. A crime novel featuring a ruggedly handsome Midwestern mayor who solves mysteries while riding astraddle half the fillies in town and ferreting out corruption in the police union? No. You ready?

“It’s a handbook on how mayors and county executives can use Lean Six Sigma to improve city government.�?

Try to contain your excitement.

I was in town when this guy was elected, and he was all Six Sigma-ing then. I did my research, and honestly, could never understand precisely what Six Sigma was other than some sort of management cult of excellence that boils down to “do the best job you can, and everything will work out.” The more research I do, the more confused I become. Just a random example: The “5 Laws of Lean Six Sigma” starts with zero and ends with four. Huh. It seems to sorta explain this with Law Zero:

Law 0: The Law of the Market – Customer Critical to Quality defines quality and is the highest priority for improvement, followed by ROIC (Return On Invested Capital) and Net Present value. It is called the Zeroth law as it is the base on which others are built.

No, I don’t know how this guy got elected, either, except that the first time out he ran against a scary Republican sheriff who had based his prior career on loudly proclaiming what a mess the city was, in comparison to the Eden of the surrounding county. Astonishingly, this didn’t play well with city residents when he finally rented an apartment within the city limits and declared his candidacy. After that, it was all about the incumbency. People in Fort Wayne like to find a rut and stick with it. A few might even understand Six Sigma.


I’m declaring today Joke Quote Day. Did someone claim June 15 for funnin’ and not tell me? How else to explain Britney Spears, following her long tradition of imitating celebrities bigger than herself, announcing she’s taking her pregnancy to Namibia? And this can’t be a real, verifiable statement, can it?

“Kevin has always been a fan of African-American culture, I’m sure he’ll feel at home there, rapping with all the natives. Besides, there’s lots of quiet unpaved roads where Sean Preston and I can go driving.”

Or this?

“(Namibia is) on the ocean and there’s lots of sand. So if Sean Preston fell off his swing and landed on his head, there’s less chance he would be hurt and we’d have those snoops from child welfare up our butts all the time.”

And certainly not this?

“I heard that Namibia has laws that let celebrities say whether or not journalists are allowed in the country. That’s so important, even more important than getting the same villa that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had.”

Even the Free Press is in on the fun. A bit local story here is about a 16-year-old from some upstate burg who disappeared a few days ago and turned up…in Amman, Jordan. She headed there to marry a man she met via MySpace. Guy calls himself Abdullah Psycho. She was stopped short of this willful entry into white slavery, and is now described as “in seclusion.” Fortunately for us, though, Abdullah Psycho’s mom speaks English and is giving interviews:

“She was going to sign a marriage contract as soon as she got here,” she told the Associated Press, adding that she told Lester to “bring a pink dress for the engagement party and a white dress for the wedding. She wanted to convert to Islam and wear the head covering and live with us and adopt our culture,” she said.

I ask you: How is a book about Six Sigma and better government going to sell in a media environment like this?

Finally, not a joke, but recommended: Emily Yoffe’s affectionate tribute to parenthood, in Slate: In our society parents do a wonderful job of portraying the difficulties of having children: the financial burdens, the time drain, the guilt, the exhaustion. But we do a lousy job of getting across something else about parenthood: It’s fun! When you are experiencing parenthood from the inside, there is an overwhelming pleasure in the funny, fascinating things your children do. When my daughter was 2, she put her arms around me as I was kissing her goodnight and said to me, “Mommy, you’re a wonderful husband.” That was better than any of the movies I hadn’t been to since she was born.

Yep. The other day I dropped an aggravated F-bomb — that is, the F was an intensfier for another obscenity — while talking of the day’s events with my husband, unaware Kate was not upstairs, but reading quietly in the next room. “Mo-om,” she said, disapprovingly. And yet still, I’m expecting a good report card. The little buggers are more resilient than we think — more good news!

A Lovely Week in June continues for the forseeable future, but I still have work to do. And the new cell phone arrived yesterday and I realized I have no idea how to use it. So I’m off for a bike ride and a briefing session at the Cingular store before school lets out for summer in…two hours. Best get moving.

Posted at 9:34 am in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' |

15 responses to “Relax, Dan Brown.”

  1. alex said on June 15, 2006 at 10:17 am

    My dad tells some rollicking good consultant stories. One of his first experiences when he got into management was an announcement handed down from higher up that the entity he was in charge of would be divided into two separate entities — on the advice of a consultant.

    This made absolutely no sense. It would mean duplication of staff and facilities at an enormous cost to the company when things were operating very efficiently as they were.

    So my dad went up the food chain and explained that this was a stupid move to one of the big bosses. “I know, I know,” he answered. “It’s just that we paid this consultant $2 million for this advice and it would look really bad if we didn’t follow it.”

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  2. Bill said on June 15, 2006 at 10:45 am

    …school let’s out for summer…


    Those old editing skills take a few hours to kick in.

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  3. nancy said on June 15, 2006 at 10:50 am

    Yikes! Fixed. Thank’s.

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  4. Danny said on June 15, 2006 at 10:54 am

    Man, Alex. That sounds like dialogue straight out of “Office Space.”

    The parenting is exhausting, but it is an absolute blast. Robin and I have no children of our own, but we done it part time on and off over the years with nephews and with other kids of friends of ours who needed us to help out for medical reasons. Our nephews lived with us for two years and though they now live near Dorothy, we talk to them almost every other day and spend our vacation with them each year. Last month, the older one, eight year old Tyler, had a school assignment to write about who they would want to be if they could be anyone. Lump-in-my-throat-time, he said me. What a dumb kid, eh? But really, what an honor.

    I could go on about Sick-Stigma, but it is on the wane at our company. The one thing that it is good for is helping people who are not very structured or logical thinkers to identify ways to improve processes and to quatify the improvement in terms of dollars or time or whatever. When it is initally introduced at a company, there is a lot of low hanging fruit and it can make a real difference, quickly. This is why I think it would really work in governement. There is a shload of low hanging fruit there and a shload of really poor thinkers. Where it goes wrong is when people get cultish about it and see it as an end and not as a means to an end.

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  5. Dorothy said on June 15, 2006 at 11:26 am

    And here I thought Six Sigma was some complicated, engineers-only kind of Vulcan mind meld that was only for the tortured (i.e. my husband) to master. He sweated through his course a few months ago and after putting in umpteen hours for it, was finally his old sweet self again once he passed. Thanks for letting me know the truth (sort of) Nancy.

    And parenthood fun? Yes indeed! Despite all the difficult stuff you have to get through, all in all, I find my kids to be amazing companions and the most fun people I know. After having spent the weekend with my 9 siblings and their kids, I find myself wishing I could start all over again with new little ones. This has more than its share of poignancy because my daughter declared that she doesn’t want to have kids at all. Ever. While we were in line to ride the Thunderbolt at Kennywood. I plan to have a talk with her at some point about the crass way she announced it to me, but I love her and support her just the same. And I’m praying she changes her mind if she meets Mr. Right. I’m DYING to be a grandmother in about 5 years!

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  6. chris said on June 15, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    6 sigma – argh – I work for a man who worships at the alter of 6 sigma and lean – its enough to turn a room full of engineers (not the most verbally adept folks) into blithering idots who sound like english is their second (maybe third) language. I came out of a 2 hour 6 sigma meeting and read your blog – maybe there is such a thing as serendipity. Mr. Richard is also a huge devote of a local consulting group called the TQM network – if you want some real jiberish visit their website. I once went to one of their noon time discussion groups where the faciltator asked me in front of a room full of people if we (the company I worked for) were trying to break the union. We were’nt (but if we were I’m sure I’d announce it in front of a room full of strangers with who knows what ties to the industry and the UAW). I was later interested to find out the faciliators other job was has a spokeswomen for DAR candles. Multi-talented that one.

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  7. Dorothy said on June 15, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    Okay what the heck is a DAR candle? Daughters of the American Revolution? They make candles? Who knew?

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  8. nancy said on June 15, 2006 at 1:50 pm

    From the TQM Network website, re Six Sigma:

    For those who are familiar with statistics, sigma is the measure of deviation from a mean value. In business, variation in a process (whether that process is the machining of a diameter or the collection of overdue receivables), almost always results in defects, rework and scrap. If one can reduce the variation in a process, one reduces the defects of that process. (In many processes, the mean value also must be moved.) But Six Sigma, as implemented by Motorola, GE and others, is much more than an abstract statistical concept. Stated simply, Six Sigma is a methodology to eliminate defects and to eliminate the opportunity for defects.

    I’d be willing to bet many of the devotees to this process are also given to chiding workers for not being “more creative” in their work, too.

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  9. Danny said on June 15, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    Actually, there was an article about a year or so ago where someone at GE admitted it can squelch creativity. I know this because at the time our whole design team was having to go through a 5 week training course. One of the instructors brought the article up in class (we all had read it ourselves already). But wouldn’t you know, SS (how appropriate is that acronym), has an answer for everything, including how to be less defective in your creative processes. LOL!

    Here’s another story I just remembered. I interviewed at GE in Lynn, MA about 8 years ago. At the time, I’d not heard of SS. It came up in a board interview and I asked what it was. Man, you should have seen these guys. They all suddenly looked down and became very interested in the table in front of them. I could almost see them trying to choose so carefully what to say in front of the others. One guy explained it tersely as improvement and said it was “good.” To which everyone else shook their heads way too quickly and, almost muttering, pronounced their agreement. It was like Stepford Engineers. Quite creepy.

    My goodness, it is only in retrospect that I can fully appreciate that moment. Too funny.

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  10. joodyb said on June 15, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    anyone remember ISO 9000? it surfaced here around 1994. then it was Baldrige awards, 9001, TQM, Six Sigma — a cottage industry! standards were their own raison d’etre, and the members of the cult weren’t very big on explaining the intricacies. they were probably among the first in business after IT to embrace the archiving potential of the Internet, a perfect medium for the migraine-inducing pages and pages of lists and certifications and rules and revisions. yikes. depressing. you can make a market out of anything. so much easier than just trying to be competent at your job.

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  11. Mitch Harper said on June 16, 2006 at 12:01 am

    A little historical copy editing –
    Graham Richard ran against Linda Buskirk in both of his mayoral campaigns.

    Ms. Buskirk defeated former Sheriff Joe Sqadrito in the Republican mayoral primary. As well as I can remember, Joe’s house was within the city limits of Fort Wayne; he didn’t move to run.

    In 1983, Fort Wayne Mayor Winfield C. Moses, Jr., a Democrat, successfully ran for re-election against former Sheriff Charles (Bud) Meeks. Bud’s house was on Tonkel Road in Cedar Creek Township north of Fort Wayne. He rented an apartment at Canterbury Green in order to establish city residency. I don’t think anyone in Bud’s lifetime ever characterized him as “scary.”

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  12. nancy said on June 16, 2006 at 12:09 am

    Graham did run against Buskirk in the general election, but it’s disingenous not to acknowledge that the Republican primary was where the action was in that year. When the JG editorial-page editor suggested Democrats register as Republicans so as to stamp out the Squadrito threat early on, it was greeted with near-hysteria by several prominent Republicans, all of whom seemed to find a place on Pat White’s radio show to complain about it. Buskirk, the non-scary Republican, beat Squadrito and then barely lost to Richard in the general election, a result some attributed to too many GOP no-shows at the polls (because they were pissed their man Joe wasn’t on the ticket).

    And sorry, but I recall Squadrito having to relo to run, but this did come from a N-S reporter, so take with appropriate grains of salt.

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  13. Mitch Harper said on June 16, 2006 at 8:14 am

    No, Nancy, it’s not disingenuous.

    Your use of that word is not appreciated.

    What I did was to correct the erroneous impression that, as a matter of historical fact, Graham Richard defeated a Sheriff in the general election.

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  14. Jim said on June 16, 2006 at 8:39 am

    The Army is now big into Lean Six Sigma. I even got a book (from the author himself) titled “What is Lean Six Sigma?” I read it. I still don’t know. I have endured several briefings about how LSS will change how we do business, make life better, more efficient, etc. But when I ask, “What is it?” I get the “Um, well, it’s a process …” I’ve never seen anyone who can say exactly what it is in a single paragraph that makes sense. A methodology to eliminate defects? It sounds to me like the quality-circle and statistical process control (SPC) that was all the rage in business about 15 years ago.

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  15. Danny said on June 16, 2006 at 9:42 am

    Jim, you are pretty spot on with that assessment. It is a new buzz word with maybe only a few added tricks. Most of my colleagues take a practical to dim view of it. OTOH, some get real idiotic about it. If your skeptical, I’m with you.

    At my company, for a few years, they even offered significant pay incentives in the form of a cut of the loot if you could lead a 6-Sigma project that resulted in saving the company bucks. That plan has ended (thankfully), but we still joke around about possibly screwing up our new designs and then fixing them to claim massive 6-Sigma benefits and then all of us getting to buy new cars or retire early.

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