ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — March 2003

In This Issue
Walking the Talk: An Interview with Chris Richardson
Looking Toward the Future
Ask the PowerPhrase® Expert



AQP Connections
Our Readers Say
The Help Desk
Articles in Brief
News Bites
What’s Up?
Out of Context
Book Nook
March 2003 News for a Change—Home Page

NFC Index

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Looking Toward the Future

In the January issue of News for a Change, Ken Case, president-elect of ASQ, began a multipart report on the Futures Study that was conducted during the summer of 2002. He shared the seven key forces that are most likely to affect quality in the foreseeable future. In January, he presented the first of four scenarios that project how society may look in the not-too-distant future. This month, he’ll share the second scenario.

Last month, I explained that we create these scenarios, hoping to stimulate quality professionals’ thinking. By deeply considering each scenario, we can plan ways to help it come to fruition or to prevent its occurrence. Each of these scenarios is plausible; what we do collectively as we move toward the future will determine what portions of these scenarios become

The first scenario was the one that the futures team considered most likely to occur. It’s called, “The Fruits of Knowledge,” and assumes that the fundamental elements of quality management have become instrumental in realizing the benefits promised by technology advancements and the dissemination of knowledge.

In this month’s scenario, “Back to the Past,” the situation is quite discouraging. A vicious cycle of economic and environmental disruption, ineffective leadership, and social fragmentation has occurred. The quality profession has dwindled to near-extinction as a result of disenchantment with its outcomes, institutional cost reductions, and the profession’s failure to grasp the seriousness of the situation and respond proactively.

I’m sure you’ll find this worst-case scenario discouraging, and you may be inclined to dismiss it as too gloomy. I encourage you, however, to consider whether the actions you’re taking today are helping to ensure our future doesn’t look like this one.

Economic Hardship

  • The effects of the 2009 stock market crash are still being felt, long after millions of investors went bankrupt and the nation experienced wave upon wave of layoffs.
  • Inequities between the wealthy few and the desperate masses led to breakdowns in social cooperation and communication.
  • Economic hardship in developing nations unleashed a backlash against globalization and Western influence. The gulf and acrimony between the “haves” and “have nots” of the world’s nations have intensified.

Public Health

  • Biotechnology research and development is out of control.
  • Corporations ignore ethical and quality concerns in pursuit of profits. Lethal microbes have fallen into the hands of terrorist groups, who have obtained the power of the Mafia in the early 1920s United States.
  • Depression is the world’s most prevalent health concern, followed closely by poverty and hunger.
  • Around the globe, social safety nets have ruptured, leaving millions of people facing poverty and illness.
  • Disease and death have escalated because of errors within patient care systems.


  • Ecological disasters have piled up. In the United States, after funding cuts forced the Environmental Protection Agency to curtail enforcement, companies have begun ignoring quality-based regulations.
  • Nuclear waste has contaminated water supplies because quality standards for its storage have not been met.
  • Ozone depletion has resumed as a result of careless disposal of chlorofluorocarbons.
  • Terrorists have exploited these weaknesses, unleashing biowarfare strikes.

The Quality Professional

  • The quality community’s absence in the development of the knowledge economy—coupled with resistance to change among a core of quality professionals—kept the profession out of debates that framed the concepts of knowledge management.
  • The profession, therefore, lost its influence on society’s economic efforts for the future.
  • Ongoing recession has been prolonged, in part, by the failure to apply quality methods to financial institutions and other elements of the global economic infrastructure.
  • ASQ/AQP membership has shrunk in
    half, forcing the demise of The Journal for Quality and Participation, Quality Progress, and other ASQ/AQP magazines and many other programs.

Quality’s Lost Opportunities

  • Quality professionals could have encouraged governments to develop better processes for oversight and management of technology.
  • They could have revived conversations about the sustainability of business methods and opened debates on how to measure quality of life.
  • Quality methods could have been used to identify and eliminate the root causes of criminal activity.

KEN CASE is regents professor of industrial engineering and management at Oklahoma State University, where he also serves as executive director of the master of science in engineering and technology management program. He has doctorate and master’s degrees in industrial engineering, and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Oklahoma State University. Case is currently ASQ’s president-elect and has served as board treasurer, national director, editorial board member, and Tulsa Section chair. An ASQ-certified quality engineer, reliability engineer, quality auditor, and quality manager, Case was named outstanding engineer in Oklahoma in 1987. He is a past president of the Institute of Industrial Engineers, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Baldrige Judge (1991-93), and an academician in the International Academy for Quality.

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