Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Doing the Right Thing

Recently I was involved in investigating an event where a product had failed to meet its specification. Apart from investigating and determining the root cause and the necessary corrective action, I had to help in determining if the particular batch was still considered suitable for commercial distribution. This led me to thinking about how important it is to ensure that the people in charged of Quality do not report to Production. Although they share the same company's value systems, each functional group is driven by different objectives and this may diverge in the event that the decisions made may cost significant losses in revenues. Quality professionals are charged with ensuring that we are doing the RIGHT thing.
How we make decisions when faced with these situations have always fascinated me. Depending on the motivations I believe that the same person can easily jump from one side of the fence to the other. I remember coming across the terms Cognitive Bias, Confirmation Bias and Belief Bias (a.k.a. Motivated Reasoning) in a recent discussion with a friend. Recently I read an interesting article in Mother Jones Magazine by Chris Mooney entitled The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science. In particular, I found the description of a 1974 experiment where the researchers presented two fake scientific studies with detailed critiques for each; one supporting and one undermining capital punishment as a deterrent for violent crimes. Even though neither fake study were stronger that the other, interestingly, rather then move their position or opinions, advocates for each group strongly criticized the study that opposed their belief and readily accepted the one that supports their belief as more convincing.
In May 2011, the Vatican closed a 4th century Cistercian monastery in Gerusalemme, Italy. The media reports focused on performances by a nun who was once a lap dancer (surprise, surprise) as well as financial and liturgical irregularities. The monastery was associated with Rome’s high society and celebrities, operating a hotel and holding regular concerts. Much ado was made about the unconventional dances by Sister Anna Nobili which can still be viewed on YouTube. I saw the performances as a lyrical dance performed by a member of the congregation to express and celebrate her faith, but I am not a member of the church and not invested in its values. Church officials however considered this and other behavior "behavior not consonant with the monastic life".
In the final analysis, making a professional decision on what the RIGHT thing is still comes back to the declared values and beliefs of the organization and fulfilling the promises it maked to its customers. That decision has to be made after careful review of the facts and supporting evidence.

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