Do You Know a Guru?

Type the word “guru” into Google and you’ll get 4.7 million results. The top 10 include websites like Guru.com, which bills itself as “the world’s largest online marketplace for freelance talent.” CodeGuru is for Windows software programmers and developers. Lawguru.com and Box Office Guru offer, respectively, legal advice and motion picture box office statistics. There’s even a Gadget Guru Online.

From this hodgepodge, you may be hard pressed to figure out exactly what a guru is. An expert? Adviser? Aficionado? All of the above?

The first definition for guru in Webster’s College Dictionary is an instructor in personal religion or spirituality. “Any person who counsels or advises, a mentor,” is the second definition, followed by “a leader in a particular field.”

I believe when most people hear the word guru, they think of a combination of the last two definitions. This applies to quality. Throughout its history, a few people (all men, so far) have gained attention, respect, accolades—and yes, guru status—for their achievements in the field.

In this issue, Greg Watson shares the lessons, still being learned and used today, from one of these so-called quality gurus, Kaoru Ishikawa (p. 54). Next month’s issue will focus on the contributions of another, Joseph M. Juran, as he approaches his 100th birthday.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Juran if he sees any new gurus emerging in the quality field. His response was emphatic. “I really don’t think much of that term, guru. The media created the concept,” he said. (OK, guilty as charged.)

He believes the media look for some spectacular event they can hype and hang the name guru on. In W. Edwards Deming’s case, Juran said, it was probably the Deming Prize for quality created by the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers. In Juran’s own case, he speculates the event was the publication of his Quality Control Handbook.

Juran said he thinks quality leaders are out there today, toiling away as he did—they’re just not recognized by the media. And he issued a challenge to me: “The media include you. You could write an editorial praising the work of one of these unsung heroes and create a guru!”

I’ll take up the gauntlet—but I want to share it with you. Though I talk and work with people I consider quality leaders every day, they tend to be already visible and recognized. You’re out in the trenches. Do you work with, learn from or look up to anyone you consider a quality leader—a guru waiting to be discovered?

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