Error reduction interferes with gaining insights

Is your organization  focused on merely reducing errors or is it also promoting ways to improve insight?

Fifty-eight of the top Fortune 200 companies bought into Six Sigma, attesting to the appeal of eliminating errors. The results of this “experiment” were striking: 91 per cent of the Six Sigma companies failed to keep up with the S&P 500 because Six Sigma got in the way of innovation. It interfered with insights. – Gary Klein

A focus on error reduction assumes that the work environment is complicated.

Complicated – relationship between cause & effect requires analysis, investigation, and expertise.
We should Sense – Analyze – Respond & we can apply good practices.

However, a focus on insights understands that most environments involving people are complex.

Complex – relationship between cause & effect can only be perceived in retrospect.
We should Probe – Sense – Respond & we can test emergent practices.

Cynefin Framework by Dave Snowden

Cynefin Framework by Dave Snowden


In order to Probe-Sense-Respond, the optimal method to understand the complex domain, one has to shift the focus from fixing the organization to understanding the environment in which the organization operates. This is what was intended in developing the learning organization, but this is usually window-dressing in most established, hierarchical organizations. If you really want to improve insights on an organizational level, then almost all work must be focused on learning. This is learning while working, not heading off on a course or attending a class. Social learning involves working out loud, sharing insights, questioning assumptions, and trying things out together. Time is needed for all of this, especially time for reflection, which is missing in all too many workplaces. Some of that time can come from a less slavish adherence to error reduction programs like Six Sigma. Encouraging and supporting social learning can prepare the workforce for tomorrow, especially an increasingly complex future.

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