Capturing the Voice of Society


Introduction and Overview

Since the time of Plato, people have curiously debated many things and explored numerous paradoxical questions — like how to make known the unknown.  For example, the human race has long debated whether or not people are naturally optimistic or pessimistic.  Being able to assemble an answer to such illusive questions has been problematic, at least until the Internet came along.  Perhaps now we can finally capture the Voice of Society.

Is is possible that the Internet could help us grapple with such stealthy problems and issues?  Could it be that the Internet and tools like Google can help us find solutions to our most difficult business problems?  For example, consider a salesperson greeting a prospective customer. If the salesperson inaugurates the discussion with pessimistic thoughts in the brain; and the prospect is very much an optimist, what do you think will happen?

Well, a pessimistic salesperson would likely prepare for such an encounter by finding solutions for the typical prospect’s potential objections.  However, if the typical prospect is optimistic by nature, understanding the key features and benefits may be a higher priority than how the salesperson handles their potential objections.  Thus, a clash of assumptions.  In this case, it would be nice to know whether people are generally optimistic or pessimistic.  Thus, the clash of assumptions might be avoided; thereby, better aligning the salespersons thinking to that of the prospect.  Hence, a better and faster alignment could be realized — which translates to sales.

As yet another illustration, let’s consider the Internet marketplace.  If people are searching for “Lean Six Sigma” related training in high numbers and not “Continuous Improvement Methods,” then perhaps consultants might want to focus their marketing campaigns with a bias towards the more favorable element, irrespective of their current products, services and sales practices.

On this wondrous subject, Harry Truman once said: “A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.” Along these same lines, James Cabell mused: “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.”  In this vain, I will set the stage for this discussion with a short but interesting personal story.

The Vision of a Leader

During my tenure with Motorola, it was my distinct honor and privilege to have Bob Galvin (then CEO and Chairman of the Board) serve as my mentor for about three years (see picture below). During that period of time, he tutored me, guided me and advised me concerning the business-of-business, so to speak.  In turn, I integrated his morsels wisdom and great insights into the practice of Six Sigma.

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As the story goes, one day I ran into Bob coming off the elevator just as I was waiting to go up. When the doors opened, he said something like: “Mike, I’m glad you’re here, I have something very important to share with you.” Well, we went to the cafeteria for coffee and just after taking the first drink, Bob said some words to the effect: “Mike, its so exciting, I just hired the two best archeologists in the world, what do you think?” I recall responding to him in the following manner: “Bob, you always have some great ideas, but on this one, you’re going to have to help me out here, I thought we built electrical products.” His specific response was: “But don’t you see?”

Obviously, I didn’t get it. I just couldn’t stretch enough to see it.  He went on to explain that the archeologists were retained to go through the basements, storage rooms and archived files throughout Motorola.  The aim was to “dig out” the artifacts of business (i.e., letters and other types and forms of documents).  Bob’s ideas was to treat the documents like small shards of pottery that could be fitted together — piece after piece — until the inherent values became apparent (see graphic below).

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Since values drives behavior and behavior drives change, it might be possible to quantify and assemble the progressive changes in Motorola’s value system.  In this way, the range of future possibilities could be defined and assessed.  Thus, a larger picture of the “Motorola Society” could be better envisioned.  In other words, such knowledge could help us look out to the horizon and make some good first-order approximations for what could be done in the present to optimally steer Motorola’s future direction.

After hearing Bob’s idea, it blew me away — to say the least.  My only response was something like: “Of course, it now seems like common sense, even though it represents extraordinary reasoning.”  Over the next few days, I could not get Bob’s idea off my mind.  Thoughts of how I might leverage this phenomenal strategy dominated my thinking.  Alas, no such luck.  It alluded me for years until one day, for what ever reason, the idea of analyzing “antonyms” hit me like a freight train.

Knowing the Unknown

To illustrate why this was such an eye-opener, let’s consider the words “optimism” and “pessimism,” I soon realized there are other antonyms that parallel these words, like good-bad, positive-negative, right-wrong and so on.  With that thought, I suddenly realized that the Internet is full of linguistic pottery shards, so to speak.  The shards may be of different sizes and colors (so to speak), but they are still the remnants of pottery.  So, by isolating and examining the antonyms of similar yet different words, I believed it might be possible to triangulate on various aspects of human nature, or even business related things, like quality improvement for example.

To better illustrate this idea, let’s consider the terms “good” and “bad” as a corollaries of optimism and pessimism, respectfully.   On June 15, 2012, I conduced a Google Search of these two terms (good and bad). The search revealed 8.2 billion results for the key word “good,” but when considering the word “bad,” there were only 3.0 billion results.  This represents a comparative ratio of about 2.7 to 1 in favor of the word “Good.”  Replicating this on December 15, 2013 revealed the following graphic.

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The new data strongly suggests that people are looking for things containing or involving the word “good” about 2.8 times more often that the word “bad.”  When comparing this to the 2012 search results, we can see there is virtually no change.  Thus, we used linguistic shards of artifactual evidence to examine the magnitude of difference and temporal stability of two antonyms.  Perhaps in this way, the “Voice of Humanity” can someday be captured, analyzed and characterized for different dimensions and aspects of the human experience — very much like Bob Galvin had envisioned.

To this end, I contrasted the following antonym-pairs that parallel or otherwise associate with the terms “optimistic” and “pessimistic.”  This mini-study was conducted on December 15, 2013 and the results are provided in the graphic below:

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Based on the selected word-pairs and search volumes, the optimistic position reigns supreme by a factor of about 3.5 to 1.0. Consequently, I rejected the null hypothesis of a 50/50 split and concluded the world is largely optimistic.  As one might surmise, the use of inferential or nonparametric statistics is not required owing to the benefits associated with a census of the population.

The Business Connection

In the same manner, this was done for a wide array of key words, phrases and labels commonly associated with the field of Lean Six Sigma.  Thus, I was able to assemble a fact-based mental picture of the current state-of-affairs related to the world of business improvement.  The graphic associated with this particular analysis is provided below.  The reader should recognize that the data supporting this graphic was collected on June 15, 2012. Perhaps at some point in the near future, I will repeat this mini-study using the latest search volumes.  Thus, we’ll have a contrast of how things have changed over time.  Granted, many would say that Google Trends can generate such time-sensitive information; however, the resulting data reliability is questionable — owing to a host of mitigating conditions.

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Upfront, the reader must recognize that when searching on a single word like “Lean,” the resulting search volume can also be somewhat misleading, owing to the influence of multiple meanings and the potential for confounding with other words.  To avoid the impact of such constraints, it was necessary to devise an objective, yet valid way to further classify the key words and terms.  To this end, the terms were cross-tabulated and then each cell was independently interrogated.  In this way, the resulting search volumes were made more relational to the purposes of this first-order investigation conducted on June 15, 2012 (see graphic below).

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Based on the numerical outcomes of the initial search pattern, the matrix was consolidated and reduced in size.  Of interest, the exclusions were made mostly on the basis of low search volumes, but personal knowledge of the industry and the opinion of subject-matter-experts were also considered.  Thus, it was possible to create a prioritized table that associated the most popular terms with the more common types of corporate improvement initiatives (improvement focus). The results of this effort are provided in the graphic below.

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Considering the numerical outcomes described in the cross-tabulation table (see graphic above), it would appear that the corporate aim of “Continuous Improvement” produces about the same search results as “Process Improvement.”  However, from a “Continuous Improvement” perspective, the data revealed that the term “Lean” is considerably more prominent than “Six Sigma” – by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.  However, these two terms are on general parity when considering a focus on “Process Improvement.”

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Interestingly, when the top two methods of improvement were jointly considered (a.k.a. “Lean Six Sigma”) the search volume was considerably less than when examined separately.  It was also interesting to note that, regardless of the corporate aim or intent, the term “Lean” produced about 1.4 times more results than the term “Six Sigma.”  When Lean and Six Sigma were set in the context of both continuous and process improvement, there were 13,600,000 search results.  This accounted for over 54% of the total results (see graphic above).  Given this, the conclusion is elementary – Lean and Six Sigma lead the way when it comes to the top types of corporate improvement initiatives.

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About Mikel Harry

Dr. Harry has been widely recognized in many of today's notable publications as the Co-Creator of Six Sigma and the world's leading authority within this field. His book entitled Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations has been on the best seller list of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Week, and He has been a consultant to many of the world’s top senior executives, such as Jack Welch, former CEO and Chairman of General Electric Corporation. Dr. Harry has also been a featured guest on popular television programs, such as the premier NBC show "Power Lunch." He is often quoted in newspapers like USA Today and interviewed by the media, such as The Economic Times. In addition, Dr. Harry has received many distinguished awards in recognition of his contributions to industry and society. At the present time, Dr. Harry is Chairman of the Six Sigma Management Institute and CEO of The Great Discovery, LLC.
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2 Responses to Capturing the Voice of Society

  1. Paul Bartha says:

    Dr. Harry your work has been leading in our industry, and placed you as the Matriarch of the movement. It is very interesting that you have been able to isolate this method for better understanding of relationships for our customers. The triangulation of antonyms’ in relation to conclusions help me see the Voice of Industry. Finally we are achieving a point where are subject matter experts can offer opinionated positions. Great read….

  2. Dr. Harry,

    Combining the use of antonyms that are meaningfully paired and then connected to their corresponding Google search volumes is a unique way to converge on a common understanding of something. For example, using antonyms to define whether people are generally optimistic by nature or pessimistic. This method can really help the Six Sigma industry to better define, articulate and validate the relationships between things in our field of practice.

    Once an issue has been broken down and triangulated by way of antonyms, the “debate” is fairly well over, especially since your conclusions should generally agree with the Voice of Industry, the Voice of Society and/or the Voice of Humanity.

    No longer do we need to rely on the opinions of subject-matte-experts or personal experience alone.

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