Success By the Numbers (or Why Being Science-y is a Good Thing)

William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, believed
"the best performance of the everyday occupations
of mankind are those to which the
principles of science are rigidly applied.”
How do you know if you know? In other words, how do you know when you have sufficient knowledge to reliably manage or improve a process? This last question reveals the foundation of all quality, regulatory, and compliance work.

More than a century ago, Lord Kelvin suggested a simple touchstone to answer this crucial question:
"When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind.  It may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the state of science."
Advancing what you do towards a state of science—whether you work in quality, regulatory, compliance, or even doing your laundry—always leads to a more reliable knowledge of cause and effect and to more consistent success. This is the very intent of science. And the converse of this principle is also true: whatever you’re doing, when you do your work without numbers and data, you’re left with only hit-and-miss knowledge and with it, a hit-and-miss record of success.

“Easy, tiger,” you may be challenging. “Aren’t you taking this a bit too far? I see how science fits with science-y stuff—like launching the space shuttle, brain surgery, or orthopterology. But with everything?” 

I’m not suggesting you constantly wear a white lab coat and carry a calculator on your belt. But for important endeavors—like meeting your business’s growth objectives, or for getting a new product right the first time, or for complying with a critical industry or government regulation—what domain would you rather operate in: a realm of cloudy understanding with an unknown chance of success or a state where you know cause and effect relationships and leverage them to consistently meet your objectives? For me, I’ll take the science.

Check the level of knowledge and science in your quality, regulatory, or compliance work. Check the level of knowledge your company uses for decisions. Is it meager and unsatisfactory? Or does it include numbers, data, and the beginning of science—and the seeds of success? Let's talk about it in the comment section below!

Craig Gygi served as the principle consultant and managing director at CKGygi LLC, a firm he founded that specializes in assisting organizations implement Lean and Six Sigma methods, establish and measure critical metrics for key business processes and provide advanced analytical and quality engineering expertise for engineering, design, production and back-office projects and programs. He also served as director of aerospace quality and operational excellence at ES3 and as director of operational excellence at Fiji Water. He was the founder, president and director of software development for TolStack, Inc. With more than 18 years’ experience applying and leading continuous improvement, Gygi is a recognized leader in the quality industry. Gygi received both a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from BYU. He may be reached at