Fragile supply chains, shortage of raw materials, the effects of the climate crisis, war in Europe and an uncertain energy supply dictate our current actions and will not be solved soon. In ever shorter time periods, we have been – and continue to be – confronted with global crises. Humankind is facing unprecedented challenges. Impulses of the Q.Event 2022 in Donaueschingen show how far this situation provides opportunities and how the necessary rethinking can succeed.
The global challenges of our time pose a challenge to the economic ideals of the past. But what are sustainable ideals for business? A comparison with nature may help, here. Let us recall the forest: It is adaptable and diverse, its processes are optimized, it uses regenerative energies as a matter of course, and it even recycles – the waste of one is the production basis of the other. Furthermore, its balance between cooperation and competition is ideal.
The principles that apply in the forest can be surprisingly easily transferred to a company’s own management and business culture. Companies that can adapt to changing environments remain marketable even in challenging times. It is more than questionable to answer the question of the meaning of a company by striving for unlimited and mostly also rapid growth. We know from trees and the forest: growth must be limited. A tree can only grow large and stable if it grows neither too fast nor too slow. Trees grow towards the sky, not into the sky. For companies, it is all about optimizing profit, not maximizing profit.
Cooperation is one of the basic conditions for quality. Therefore, cooperative interaction between companies is required for the lasting success of all parties involved. Nevertheless, it is often assumed that competition is the central motor of evolution. However, many examples from nature prove the opposite – for example, the interactions between trees and fungi, which mutually supply each other with nutrients. In nature, the ability to cooperate is the actual reason living organisms succeed repeatedly in finding a habitat for themselves in almost any environment – be it on land, in water or in the air – and in surviving in it. The core element and thus the driving force of evolution is not primarily competition, but cooperation.
Concerning business culture, a comparison with the forest ecosystem shows why cooperation and diversity make teams productive. In the forest, quality only comes about through the interaction of the different players. Teams also benefit from diversity in terms of qualifications, cultural backgrounds, gender, and age. Because each team member contributes differently, a profitable diversity of approaches and methods is created. Diversity maintains and promotes quality – not only in forests, but also in the company.
The German industry has benefited from a zero-defect culture for a long time. It even has ensured the world-renowned quality of German products. What is desirable in production processes has become the mantra of entire corporate cultures: striving for few or no defects. However, it is quickly overlooked that learning and real progress are not possible at all without errors. So, instead of trying to avoid mistakes company-wide, we should create spaces where making mistakes is encouraged in favor of learning effects.
Mistakes cost time and money. But if we do not make mistakes, we risk innovation, progress, and growth. Every success is based on hundreds, even thousands of mistakes. Mistakes are also a blessing! Dealing with mistakes in a future-oriented way means capitalizing on them and prioritizing innovation. A positive error culture is the beginning of further development, which in turn also leads to economic success. Last but not least, a change of perspective helps in dealing with crises: to deal with the global challenges of our time, it is necessary to create spaces for failure and growth.
In the face of contemporary challenges, we need to think bigger regarding our concepts of quality and quality management. Quality is more than just a word: it is the sum of all the elements that create it. That is why modern quality management cannot just be the task of quality management officers: a company can only produce quality if everyone in the company is deeply committed to ensuring and producing quality on a daily basis. To achieve this, it is not only important that all processes are optimized, but also that all employees are allowed to contribute their individual strengths in the work environment, and that they can rely on constructive feedback.
Modern quality management can no longer be limited to quality assurance, robust products, and services. We must think about the term in social and political terms, accept the challenges of the present, and anchor the tasks they pose for us within the company. And as soon as we do that, the challenges of our time suddenly become opportunities. They provide us with perspectives for the right actions for tomorrow. The time for rethinking is now. And now is the time for quality.
Are you interested in these topics? Read more in our Q.Magazine (issue 2021/22).