Statistical Bullies

Over the last several years I've noticed a disturbing trend. I don't know if it was brought on by the belting of Six Sigma practitioners or it's just a fact of life. When someone bullies another person or team with their "knowledge" of statistics, it impedes the adoption of Six Sigma methods and tools. 

While algorithms may produce slightly different results, discouraging people from using Six Sigma to improve the business, create jobs and an unstoppable economy is a much greater crime. 

In one of the Austin Powers movies, one of the villains bullies people with his weight. He steals Austin's mojo. In Six Sigma, statistical bullies intimidate people with the weight of their "knowledge" and steal their mojo

These statistical bullies do more damage than good.

Statistical Bullies

It has taken me some time to realize that these statistical zealots are no different from a schoolyard bully. They use the same tactics. 

My friend, Ben Leichtling, Ph.D., has written two book s on bullying: Bullies below the Radar and How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks. Ben has identified three kinds of bullies:

  • Overt Bullies - You can spot them from a mile away.
  • Stealth Bullies - They want to exert control over your life and way of thinking.
  • Self Bullies - People who beat themselves up.
I have found that most people have some sort of phobia about math. It could be something as simple as calculating tips in a restaurant or as big as hypothesis testing. The people who harbor some anxiety about math tend to beat themselves up about it. And this self-bullying sets them up for manipulation by overt and stealth bullies. 

Howard Gardner, author of Frames of Mind--the Seven Intelligences, found that Math/Science is only one of the many intelligences. Others include visual/spatial, interpersonal and musical. Just because math isn't your thing, don't beat yourself up. You can learn what you need to know. 

Stealth Statistical Bullies

While overt bullies try to browbeat you into doing what they want, stealth bullies try to manipulate or seduce you into doing what they want. Here's what Ben says about stealth bullies: "They try to defeat you inch by inch...They want you to feel guilty, baffled and unsure of what you're doing wrong. They want you to give up and surrender your will, judgment and control to them. Then they can direct your life in order 'to make it better for you'." Stealth Bullies are:

  • Selfish: It's all about them (not you, statistics or Six Sigma)
  • Critical: They think they know what's best about everything.
  • Deceitful: They manipulate you in a sneaky way by correcting you or giving you advice.
  • Hyper-sensitive: They play the touchy, hurt, 'professional victim' role.
  • Righteous finger-pointers: They believe they're always right and they want you to feel impolite if you ignore, disagree or don't accept their opinions. They find experts to agree with them. They baffle you with reasonable sounding excuses and justifications. When you prove them wrong, they evade your point, blow smoke in your eyes and divert your attention to their point.

Ben says, "Because they are so sneaky, stealth bullies can be even more dangerous than overt bullies."

Hidden Agenda

Last week a potential customer for the QI Macros called. His boss was ranting against using Excel for anything statistical. He sited papers he'd found on the internet supporting his claims. The boss, of course, had already advocated a much more expensive and complex software package. Changing to an affordable, usable Excel-based package like the QI Macros might have made him look bad. 

I spent the better part of a day dispelling each item in his rant. (By the way, Excel 2003 has significant improvements to key statistics and the QI Macros mistake-proofs the use of other Excel statistics.) 

I suggested a win-win solution: Big expensive, complex software for the Master Black Belts and Black Belts; QI Macros for everyone else.

Keepers of the Sacred Knowledge

Some of the "belted" seem to think they are they keepers of the sacred knowledge. Lots of Ph.D.s think everyone should know everything about the formulas and statistics before they can do anything. That kind of thinking is just silly. If that were true in other arenas, then they would have to know everything about auto mechanics before they start their car. 

I have found that people who have invested a lot of time in learning statistics or in learning a complex statistical software package hate the idea of an easier way. They want everyone to take the hard way, not the highway. Again, this slows the spread of Six Sigma. 

At the ASQ World Conference on quality, I opened a book on statistics where the Ph.D. lamented that anyone could plug numbers into a software package and get answers quickly. He thought we'd lost something by not doing a paper-and-pencil analysis that takes hours. All I can say is: nonsense!

In team meetings, someone will say: "that's not valid data." And I say: "If you've got better data, bring it." They don't. But I have the guts to stand up to them. You should too.

Stand Up To Bullies

Ben says there is power in simply recognizing and labeling bullies as "bullies." Call a statistical bully a bully. There are three responses to bullies:

  • Stay and bear it, but tolerating a bully is only successful when it's a temporary situation. Otherwise, it will erode your soul.

  • Negotiate and fight. In the example above, offering the boss a chance to save face by getting more complex software for Black Belts is a form of negotiation. Taking their complaints, one by one, and refuting them with actual research and data, as I often do, is fighting. In this kind of fight, however, they will keep searching for the one exception that validates their stance even if 99.9% of everything else is good enough.

  • Create distance. Get away from this bully. Fly below their radar. Get a job in another part of the company or a different company.

Here's My Point

Statistical bullies are killing the spread of Six Sigma and the benefits it can bring. 

If you're a statistical bully, get over yourself. Become a statistical coach. Bring everyone along. Stop hoarding the sacred knowledge because it won't protect your job security; it will ruin it. 

Statistical bullies want to exploit your fear of math and computers, your hesitation, your weakness. You can put up with their shenanigans, negotiate, fight or get away from them. Whichever you choose, call them what they are: statistical bullies.

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537,"

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