One rainy night in Manhattan, I was having a late dinner with the CEO of a sizable consumer products company. He had been in the job for five years or so following a long career with General Electric. We were sipping coffee after the meal when he began talking about a management dilemma that he couldn’t seem to resolve.

The CEO wanted to change his company’s whole culture to make it more customer-centric, and he knew that Six Sigma could help in that regard. But there were a couple of problems. “To start with,” he said, “I’m not Jack Welch. Aside from that, my people’s knowledge level just isn’t high enough for them to handle Six Sigma. It’s too complicated.”

Eventually, he turned to me with a question: “Do ...

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