Subir Chowdhury's new book, The Difference: When Good Enough Isn't Enough, focuses on enhancing productivity and quality in business as well as in life outside of work. Chowdhury, who has written extensively on quality, Six Sigma and leadership, believes there is just one factor that makes a difference in both these areas: a caring mindset as against an indifferent one.
This book was written based on the author's personal experience as well as his work in quality improvement across a series of large and small organisations. He asks a simple question: Why is it that given identical ideas and training, one organisation improves only incrementally while another is radically transformed? Why is it necessary to cultivate a "caring mindset" at work as well as in our personal lives?
In this book, Chowdhury focuses not on process but on people. "Improving quality is not a slogan or a process unto itself. Without a truly fearless culture, it is impossible to implement programs because employees — whether they're on the assembly line, in sales or accounting or inventory or in the executive suite — lack the needed mindset."
Chowdhury writes like a storyteller and captures the lives of businesspeople at the highest levels as well as individuals outside business, in daily life, to drive home the fact that quality would not be achieved if the principles of a caring mindset are not developed and followed.
And as that is established, a company's managers are able to engage in dialogue, collaborate and work together as a team. While pinning blame for loss of quality on others has always been the norm, in the new caring mindset, people worked on trying to empathise with each other. This would lead to a better understanding in the team, better productivity, better quality and a higher state of life.
Chowdhury says: "Surely we must care about our customers. But first we must care about one another. There must be caring, and then process. Some may roll their eyes at this, but trust me — process alone won't get you where you need to go."
The author says that there are four attributes that define a caring mindset and that developing each one of them is crucial in the overall make-up of the individual and these attributes have effects both in the workspace and in personal, social life.
The four attributes, he describes as STAR: Being Straightforward; Being Thoughtful; Being Accountable; Having Resolve.
"Being Straightforward" is listed first in the author's acronym, given that it is the most difficult attribute to develop. There is a certain inclination to lie or mislead, something that we develop over years beginning from childhood. It is not a value that is developed deliberately, but unconsciously.
In business, not being straightforward can yield crippling consequences, as experienced recently by Volkswagen, a company that lied deliberately, misrepresenting the amount of pollutants emitted by its diesel cars. In addition to lawsuits and a loss of reputation, the company is facing severe financial penalties. All it required for the company was to have its line of managers raise the alarm when they were building software that was set to mislead emission tests. Not a single manager did that and not being straightforward resulted in severe losses that ran into billions of dollars. So the first characteristic to develop a caring mindset is to be straightforward and transparent, and to develop certain fearlessness.
The second characteristic of creating a caring mindset is "Being Thoughtful." The author says this means that a person is attentive to others, considerate, unselfish and helpful. This is a classic value to develop by being in another person's shoes before undertaking any action. Being thoughtful involves good listening and being empathetic.
According to Chowdhury, people don't listen most of the time, and the bulk of the time spent in an interaction is people thinking of what to say next in a conversation, rather than listening. The author advises that the best route to quality and better productivity is to listen carefully, most of the time, and then contribute by speaking. This attribute, he says, is missing in the workspace as well as in personal life situations. Listening can eliminate a great deal of misunderstanding and give rise to clearer communication between the management and employees or between members of a family.
"Being Accountable" is the third characteristic of the caring mindset. According to the author, being accountable is to accept responsibility for one's actions. Being accountable comprises five factors: 1) being aware that something must be done, 2) taking personal responsibility for it, 3) making a decision to act, 4) considering the consequences, and 5) setting expectations.
The final letter of the acronym STAR stands for "Resolve." While resolve includes passion and determination, it also includes humility and a willingness to allow change. Here the author gives examples from his own life as to how he was able to find a scholarship to study in America, which, initially, he was refused by a series of departments. The author states that he resolved not to give up and doggedly went from department to department to find financial support. Finally, he won the battle when Dow Chemicals agreed to fund him.
With this framework for creating a caring mindset, based on the STAR principles, Chowdhury encourages each of us to make a difference at work as well as at home. "There is no question that practicing the principles of being straightforward, being thoughtful, being accountable and having resolve will surely enrich your life," he says. "You can be the difference."
In the end, Chowdhury explains how his family, particularly his grandfather inculcated the value of education in him, on how it is important to choose a pen as different from choosing a coin. The pen, he says, will lead to a comprehensive development of the individual through education. Money will come when there is education. This, he elaborates, in the final chapter explaining his family's role in making him focus on education.
Throughout the book, there are several examples of companies that have followed his principles of STAR and achieved massive breakthroughs. In some cases, he has used fiction to explain the operations of the companies and in others he has been able to provide the details of actual companies working on his principles.
There are several conversations with CEOs, mid-management, vice-presidents by Chowdhury in which he outlines solutions to problems these senior people were facing in running their companies. It is a treat to read the examples and the conversations that go on between Chowdhury and senior professionals working in top positions for Fortune 500 companies.
The book is an easy read of the problems faced by top companies and the solutions offered to resolve them. It is inspiring, easily understandable and relates to all our lives both in the workspace and outside it. A definite read for people and professionals across work sectors.
Subir Chowdhury, (January 12, 1967) is an author of 15 books and noted for his work in quality and management. Born in Chittagong, Bangladesh, the management consultant received his undergraduate degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, and a graduate degree in Industrial Management from Central Michigan University. In 2003, Chowdhury formed ASI Consulting Group, LLC and became its chairman and CEO. He became a naturalised United States citizen in 2004.
The Los Angeles-based writer works with Fortune 500 companies to improve their processes, operations, quality and performance. He is the author of The Power of Six Sigma, and The Ice Cream Maker.