The difference between a cough and a sneeze


Today, Leigh Fuller (a colleague and friend) poses an interesting question to us, “Do you know the difference between a cough and a sneeze?” Now, before you jump to conclusions, there is a difference and it might have more to do with history and culture than you might think.  Take a look at Leigh’s thoughts:

How many times have you had a quality issue arise and provided a solution because “we’ve done this before”? Does the fact that “we’ve done this before” mean that it is the best course of action to take based on compliance risk, current regulatory requirements, trends or risk? It is important to make sure we understand the situation and risk before finalizing our decisions. Not being thoughtful about our decisions could make us an organization that takes too much risk or in some situations, not enough risk.  

This triggered a parallel in my mind recently. Why do we say “bless you” when someone sneezes?  National Geographic reports that in AD 590 that Pope Gregory I started the phase “God bless you” since sneezing was often the sign that someone had contracted the plague and would likely die. There are also stories of people believing that sneezing could be a person’s soul being thrown from their body. Regardless of how it all began, it has become a cultural norm for people to say “bless you” when someone sneezes. You are considered rude if you do not offer a “bless you” to someone in close proximity when they sneeze.  If I cough in front of my two year old twins they often say “bless you”.  They do not understand the difference between a cough and a sneeze.

So the questions I leave you with today are… Do you know what cultural norms you are creating by following the historical norms? Do you know the difference between a cough and a sneeze?

By doing the same things the same ways we’ve always done them, we create paradigms that are often impossible to change. Just ask someone from Michigan to stop calling a soft drink “pop” instead of “soda” or “cola”.  Historical practices can often become cultural norms that cause us to do things that we really should not do.  Here are a few more examples:

  • Our reject rate has always been around 10%, yet we get excited to see an improvement to only 8% rejections — Why not go crazy and look to improve to less than 5% rejections?
  • “Our Policy does not allow for that, even if it is a good idea.” — Why not change the Policy? It can be done!
  • We might be delayed on that because we have to go through the __________ Committee — If it is something that really makes a difference and needs to get done, why not try to avoid meaningless or non-value added steps?

I think Leigh’s point is a great one… perhaps we should re-consider today what we do and why we do it. We should ask, “Are we doing this because it makes good sense or are we doing it because it is considered the cultural or historical norm?”

Thanks, Leigh, great job! Let’s have one of those “top ten” days today!

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