Three Levels of Knowledge
By Dean Hubbard
President of Northwest Missouri State University and
Former National Malcolm Baldrige Award Examiner
“It gives me great pleasure to be a small part of the launching of a significant book on quality service and the culture it takes to sustain it.
Someone has said, “I am not interested in simplicity on this side of complexity. I am only interested in simplicity on the other side of complexity.”
This axiom suggests that there are three stages of knowledge. The first level is simplicity born of ignorance, as when somebody says, “Oh, that’s simple,” but doesn’t know what they are talking about. The second level is complexity born of understanding–when one realizes a subject is far more complex than it first appears on the surface. The third level is simplicity born of profound understanding. Only a few get to this lofty state. Fred Lee is among that elite group. People who know little about customer satisfaction and loyalty think it is simple. “It’s just practicing the Golden Rule,” they will say dismissively. Organizational leaders at this level believe they can effect change by simply elaborating on the Golden Rule with statements of mission, vision, and core values. But they quickly learn the discouraging truth that changing from a culture of “what’s in it for me,” to “what would be best for my customer” is impossible at that level of simplicity. When they begin to see that it is harder than it seems, some give up and make excuses for their particular organization. “We’re in the inner city,” they will say. Or, “Our facility needs to be modernized first.” Or, “There’s a labor shortage and we can’t find good people anymore.”
However, the best leaders redouble their efforts through exhaustive reading, learning from the great quality thinkers like Deming, Juran, and Crosby, and benchmarking other organizations. I have been on this journey at the college and university level for nearly thirty years. I know what I am talking about, and so do all the members of our leadership team. With the right thinking and relentless improvement, Northwest Missouri State University is the only educational institution to win the coveted Missouri Quality Award twice.
Sometime, stand facing the leadership shelves at Barnes and Noble and ponder this thought: Every single book in front of you, and hundreds not on display, all have something unique and important to teach about cultural transformation, human motivation, process improvement, and quality service. If one were to read them all, he or she would be overwhelmed by the complexity of creating the ideal organizational culture. What one longs for at this point is someone who can strip away the trivial and distill the essence of all this knowledge into a handful of principles born of profound understanding. That’s what Fred Lee has done for hospital leadership in this immensely readable book–much of which I have found just as applicable to the university experience.
Fred Lee speaks as a keen observer of individual motivation and group participation in organizational goals. He established his career in hospital leadership and uses Disney as his benchmark because he has been inside the Disney culture as a cast member, consultant, and facilitator. What helps give his writing and speaking its most profound “simplicity on the other side of complexity” is his extensive use of personal experiences and relevant stories to demonstrate every principle he teaches. Even though he specializes in healthcare, he has been a big hit with our university staff who have been inspired by his passion and challenged by his insights. If you are still reading this foreword, I predict you have started a delightful journey through these pages.”