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Sensei Friedrich Fachidiot


Enough With the Japanese Improvement Jargon

The next wave of improvement is German

Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2020 - 12:03

Mea culpa! I have a reputation for mercilessly bashing management, but I’ve finally come to realize that I owe executives an apology.

As I have been constantly reminded in my career, these are very busy, very bright people. This column is a peace offering of my unique, executive quality-improvement brand to acknowledge this, while helping leaders communicate their very hard work with even more passionate public speeches about commitment to quality.

When faced with yet another patronizing assault of Japanese gobbledygook, executives can confidently counter with an improvement process perfectly describing their woefully underappreciated efforts that entitle them to a six- or seven-figure salary. Its impressive German label and imposing magnitude will immediately shut down anyone daring to further utter anything Japanese. It captures the essence of their hard work and commitment, and oozes that no-nonsense German aura of leadership.

On the next corporate video pep talk, have them proudly announce:
“It’s time to move beyond Deming, Juran, Six Sigma, lean, and Agile: We have now proudly adopted Verschlimmbesserung and its four pillars of verwechslung, widerstreit, vielschichtigkeit, and durcheinander to create a culture of rechenschaftspflicht!” *

Who is going to question that if said with authority?

The late David Kerridge quoted W. Edwards Deming as saying, “Don’t waste too much time on tools and techniques. You can learn the lot in 15 minutes.” But, as I have often been told, asking for even 15 minutes of busy executive attention could be too much.

I think Father Guido Sarducci’s concept of a five-minute university is brilliant—the perfect five-minute overview that executives so dearly love. So, what would be the final exam of our Five-Minute Verschlimmbesserung University?
Q1: Why do we need quality improvement?
   A1: “Because when we improve, we get better.”
(Believe it or not, the CEO of a major corporation known for its quality said this with dead seriousness at a quality awards banquet. I almost choked on my food!)
Q2: Why do we need statistics?
   A2: (Serious look on face and pointing with index finger) “Variation!”
Q3: What quality philosophy is its cornerstone, and how do you apply statistics?
   A3: “Profound knowledge and PDSA”

Of course, these answers would be incorporated into the video pep talk, as would the proud mention of their hard-earned belt (obtained by clicking here—get yours while you’re at it).

* Translation: “We are going to maintain the status quo of confusion (verwechslung), conflict (widerstreit), complexity (vielschichtigkeit), and chaos (durcheinander) using tough goals with accountability (rechenschaftspflicht), data INsanity, and cutting costs. Let’s all pull together as a team to work harder and work smarter! If you need my support for anything, you know where to go.”

Did you note today’s date of April 1st?

April fool!

Many of you may already have a sneaking sense, “This sounds like something Davis Balestracci would write.” Guilty! (And the photo in the bio is one of me taken in a Chinese garden in Sydney, Australia.) No doubt you’ve also figured out: 1) Guido Sarducci is not a priest; 2) any belt and $2 will get you a cup of coffee; and 3) I am hardly apologizing

It’s time to get out the cold compresses for those poor execs whom I have no doubt offended yet again (and who can still cry all the way to the bank).

Verschlimmbesserung” (pronounced versh-lim-BESS-air-oong) is indeed a real German word. It has no English equivalent and means “a supposed improvement that makes things worse,” i.e., a huge amount of work activity that purports to improve but does the exact opposite (as in, “For every problem, there is a solution: simple, obvious, and wrong.”)

One glaring example is the verschlimmbesserung of the inevitable ongoing budget revisions and cost-cutting meetings (up to 30% of an organization’s time). Focusing on costs always increases costs because it adds to the already existing confusion, conflict, complexity, and chaos (the causes of costs).

There are positive aspects. Maybe “conscious improvement” practitioners can actually improve the quality of life for their future generations by introducing this word into common usage, especially when dealing with planners, designers, bureaucrats, and policy makers.

Think of the relief in dealing with the frustration of having solid improvement ideas “revised” or overruled by such people by saying with a straight face, “Ha! Let lean have the kaizen events. We shall roll this out with a verschlimmbesserung event!” Dilbert’s boss would accept it as a compliment.

Conscious improvement also requires the necessary skill of fingerspitzengefühl (pronounced “FINger-spitsen-GERful, literally, “fingertip feeling”), “a great situational awareness, and the ability to respond most appropriately and tactfully.”

It is the ability to think clearly about many individual complex events and treat them as a whole. It’s to have an understanding of something on multiple levels and see how they all mesh—a bit like systems thinking. It’s a lovely-sounding word and also sounds like an ability one would deservedly be proud to have mastered. 

Watch out for the fachidiots

And then there are those practicing UNconscious improvement: fachidiot (pronounced “fack-ID-yot”)—“a person who divorces the context and consequences from individual actions; being so concentrated on the means he doesn’t even notice the ends; an extreme specialist who only knows about his field, and doesn’t know or care about what happens around him.” (Qualicrat?)

Onomatopoeia is a wonderful thing, in this case, sounding exactly like what it is. The literal translation is “subject idiot.” Some people know a lot about a particular field but can still notice what is going on around them; a fachidiot simply does not.

So don’t be a fachidiot; use some fingerspitzengefühl and, whatever you do, avoid creating a verschlimmbesserung. Don’t get stuck in gerade gut genug (“just good enough”).

By the way, has anyone noticed the similarity between a declaration of verschlimmbesserung and the brilliant episode of the equally brilliant TV show Better Off Ted called “The Jabberwocky Project? (three-minute clip—learn the proper format and key executive skill to deliver it credibly).

Perhaps those of you committed to conscious improvement should give data sanity a chance to avoid such nonsense? All you need is to find the 25 to 30 percent of your execs who would agree, and who have a thick enough skin to laugh heartily with humility at this column.

(With thanks to Mark for this article’s inspiration.)


About The Author

Sensei Friedrich Fachidiot’s picture

Sensei Friedrich Fachidiot

Sensei Friedrich Fachidiot, aka Davis Balestracci, is a past chair of ASQ’s statistics division. He has synthesized W. Edwards Deming’s philosophy as Deming intended—as an approach to leadership—in the second edition of Data Sanity (Medical Group Management Association, 2015), with a foreword by Donald Berwick, M.D. Shipped free or as an ebook, Data Sanity offers a new way of thinking using a common organizational language based in process and understanding variation (data sanity), applied to everyday data and management. It also integrates Balestracci’s 20 years of studying organizational psychology into an “improvement as built in” approach as opposed to most current “quality as bolt-on” programs. Balestracci would love to wake up your conferences with his dynamic style and entertaining insights into the places where process, statistics, organizational culture, and quality meet.


The engineers do it too!

The engineers do it too!. Chrysler Turbo Encabulator


THE Turboencbulator

Bless you good sir for reminding us of this engineering marvel. Revolutionary, cutting-edge technology designed for frictionless plug and play integration, taking the state of the art to the next plateu with seamless backwards compatability!

April Fools Day and Buzzwords - How appropriate!

Verschlimmbesserung is the industry leader of mission-critical TQM. We will morph the commonly-used term "24/7/365". Our proactive feature set is unmatched, but our bleeding-edge CAD and easy use is constantly considered a remarkable achievement. We usually strategize bleeding-edge content management. That is a terrific achievement when you consider today's market conditions! Your budget for benchmarking should be at least twice your budget for pushing the envelope. We will generate the capacity of architectures to seize. We will scale up our capability to empower without depreciating our capability to productize. We think that most user-centric web applications use far too much ActionScript, and not enough ASP. The metrics for TQC are more well-understood if they are not client-focused. Do you have a game plan to become viral, B2C? What do we deploy? Anything and everything, regardless of incomprehensibility! Think ubiquitous.

Let me say this about that...

I realize that all this is par for the course, but, at the end of the day, rather than throw everything done to date under the bus, the best bang for the buck is to get all hands on deck to circle back around, think outside the box, and hit the ground running to get the ball rolling on getting back to the drawing board and creating a win-win synergy using a drill-down on the low-hanging fruit to address the elephant in the room.  If you don’t have the bandwidth, redouble your efforts to become personally accountable and take this offline to get your manager’s blessing, move the goal post and proudly say, 'It’s on my radar, but, more importantly, on my plate as well.'  Make it a no brainer with an apples-to-apples comparison of Six Sigma versus Lean versus TPS, then ping me to touch base again. Please know that I'll be (w-a-a-a-y) behind this effort and, if you need my support, you know where to go.


Mixed metaphor

Cliched mixed metaphor of the month Davis.  Clearly management potential!  You need to step up to the plate, keep pushing the envelope, burn the candle at both ends, and remember failure is not an option ... unless you do give in and drink the cool aid.

Truly Insightful!

It’s obvious that you understand that this paradigm shift you propose will permanently transform our ability to iteratively maximize our leverage via holistic project management.


I do hope you watched that "Better Off TED" clip.

Thanks for brightening my day.  At least someone read it!



That was awesome Alan. Almost had me believing it. Then I realized I didn't understand a single thing you were saying. Most excellent April's Fools!