By W. Frazier Pruitt
I cannot remember the books I’ve read any moreRalph Waldo Emerson
than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have
In the quality director’s office, there lay a book with a penguin on the cover. Most times there was a book lying around that office, not on a shelf like a trophy but on the desk, ready at a moment’s notice. I am not sure if the whole executive leadership team had been reading this book or if he had picked it on his own, but it had caught my eye.
Being a young professional in my first engineering position, I was eager to make a connection and learn everything important that was not covered in the CQE BoK. I went to the library to find the book with the penguin on the cover and devoured it over the next few evenings. Lessons from that experience are still with me today.
In the following weeks, the quality director, whom I now consider a mentor, and I talked about many things in relation to books and our work. Topics ranged from how Kotter’s steps may have helped in the past to how we might use them in the future, even at times challenging the apparent luxury of enough time for all eight tedious steps. Porter’s theme of strategy challenged the supremacy of Japanese production systems and stretched the bounds of quality functions. These can be heady conversations for a young engineer, and I am certain that I did not do them justice, but many practical things came from them.
By thinking critically about change, I started to internalize what drives human behavior and the factors involved in changing human behavior. This basic understanding of human behavior, however limited, has influenced my work on a daily basis. In fact, it may be a contributing factor to entering into supervision, a role I now very much enjoy, not least because I get to be the mentor. It gives me great satisfaction just striving to inspire and empower the next generation.
Similarly, the critical discussions and thoughts on the topics of corporate strategy stirred by Porter eventually shaped how I strive to view quality as more than a department. Those conversations were the seed that eventually led me to enroll in
an MBA program, something I would have never fathomed as a young engineer. Today those skills, fostered some time ago, help me interface with all different levels of the organization and drive quality throughout the organization I shared here two very particular books and how they influenced me in a very particular way, but I don’t think that is the point. These skills and perspectives have served me well, but my journey is not your journey. These examples are only two of many books I have read, distinguished here only because they are the ones I first remember. Your stories will be different. You will take away and remember different things in the end. It matters little what you start reading–and you do not need a great mentor. What you do need is someone to push you from passive reading to critical thinking. Someone to challenge you, someone to provoke you, and not just in a theoretical sense but in relation to real experiences. You too may one day reminisce about books and conversations that quite unexpectedly had direct bearings on your life, but first you need to read and discuss critically.
Article originally published in Quality Management Forum Spring 2022