Subject: Beyond the buzzwords Slippery Slope: When X does not follow Y

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

A STORY is told of a man who called on the phone and began telling Dennis, a 14-year old lad, the purpose of his call: “I’m representing the Society for the Suppression of Profanity. And I’d like to propose taking profanity and vulgarity out of your family life.” Dennis replied: “Just a minute. My Dad would be pleased to talk to you.”

“Hey, Dad! There’s a man on the phone who wants to buy your car.”

From time to time, I meet some corporate executives who act and think like Dennis giving you a categorical answer on a management issue and yet in so many words, they tell you more about their misinterpretation of anything. For instance, when we talk about kaizen (continuous improvement) or “lean,” its Western equivalent, they will tell you right away that the theory is applicable only in the manufacturing industry and not in banks, telecoms, call centers, publishing, health care, and IT companies, among others.

Sometimes, they claim that kaizen and lean management are mere fads and they do not deliver sustainable results. I’m not sure where they’re coming from, but when I meet them, I would not hesitate to offer them my consulting services for free, just to prove a point.


It’s my CSR (corporate social responsibility) program, anyway. Or if they’re too guarded to accept it, they can pay me any amount they like or an X percentage of the total savings that I can discover for them. Fair deal, isn’t it?

But tell me. Why do people talk about their illiteracy to others? Is there a scientific explanation to it? Well, the best buzzword answer that I can offer is the “slippery slope.” It refers to a false argument or short-sightedness that when something happens, inevitably it must be followed by a sure thing, even in the absence of any factual or scientific evidence.

A slippery slope means that if X happened, then Y must necessarily follow. For example, if people talk about kaizen (or lean), then they must be referring to those in the manufacturing industry and not in some other places. Of course that’s stupidity, to say it diplomatically. Other examples include: We have to stop the MRT fare increase. If not, what would prevent them from increasing it to P100 per passenger? If you don’t raise a complaint now, they will do it again.

Another example: If P-Noy committed a serious mistake in handling the Mamasapano incident, then it follows that he should resign from office. Sounds right? Of course not! That’s short-sightedness if we’ll listen to the twisted argument of former congressman Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, who lost credibility with his poor management of our national athletes under the Philippine Olympic Committee.

If P-Noy resigns, then the cure becomes worse than the disease. That’s why a slippery slope is known as a fallacy.

In talking to dozens of corporate managers out there, numerous discussions point about their overall satisfaction level with the long-term results out of a kaizen or lean management strategy in the service industry. Our fruitful conversations have highlighted that change efforts by open-minded management have been adequate.

On the downside, many kaizen or lean change management efforts fail because people easily go back to their old ways and don’t use the same principles consistently. They were taught problem-solving techniques on specific improvement projects, but then they fail to use them in other work areas.

When I first learned of kaizen more than 22 years ago, I spent one year in Tokyo learning how Japanese managers do quality and productivity improvement. Within a year, many of the principles that I learned were used in a broader context that I was able to apply them even in the HR (human resources) function.

In the first place, kaizen is an American invention. It came from Walter Shewhart (1891-1967), an American physicist, engineer, and statistician who advocated the PDCA (plan, do, check, and act) approach. It heavily influenced Shewhart’s student, W. Edward Deming (1900-1993), who improved it to PDSA (plan, do, study, act) and brought the same principle under the Management Training Program/Training within Industry that helped resurrect Japan from the ashes of World War II.

Effective problem-solving needs to be applied every day, everywhere, and by everyone. Indeed, kaizen or lean is a strategic solution looking for problems to solve. The trick is to treat everything that works as obsolete. Even new things should be treated obsolete the minute they come out in the market.

If you have that mindset, then how can your competitors beat you?

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts.

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2 Comments

  1. Justaskingseriously on

    “When X does not follow Y.” Why? Is X supposed to follow Y? Of course not. Y is supposed to intersect X. This part of the title could hold the key to the courses offered in Management. It is not about correctness. It is more about surreptitious manipulative techniques. That is how one beats the competition. It is not about producing products with inherent superiority. Continuous improvement does not really have anything to do with improving products, does it? Any which way to achieve the goal or goals is the essence of continuous improvement.

    Apply this to government management and you really have something to behold. Nothing more nor less than a vicious cycle.

  2. Justaskingseriously on

    The analogy of slippery slope has come to be a fallacy. It is not a fallacy per se. The fallacious reasoning is its application to non-scientific situations. Really no analogy as analogy is fallacy. It remains an analogy until it is applied wrongly.

    When examples concerning current issues that involve glaring constitutional violations and efforts at reforming the system are used in connection with the fallacy of slippery slope, it denegrates the intentions of those involved. Never mind that the subject is supposedly all about continuous improvement in corporate (mostly) management practices. After all, there is the point that the latest improvement should always be regarded as already oblsolete. Always maintain the competitive edge. Who would object to that? Even the competition would eagerly embrace it.

    Beyond buzzwords all right. But meantime the fallacy with nary a cautionary phrase as to its scientific validity has already stuck to the reader’s receptive mind. And the examples are forever remembered and the constitutional issues rendered obsolete–until the next vindictive administration.