//What do you do with a toothpick?

What do you do with a toothpick?


Caring isn’t someone else’s issue—it’s your issue. It’s my issue. It’s your neighbor’s issue. It’s the CEO’s issue.

Quality & Me

Subir shares short stories about what people do to make a difference everywhere they go. We can make huge contributions to the way we function as a society by standing out as an example within our own community: at work, at our places of worship, among our colleagues, friends, and family. All it takes is the courage to step up and being straightforward, thoughtful, accountable, and resilient.


Books by Subir

The Power of LEO
The Ice Cream Maker
The Power of Design for Six
The Power of Six Sigma
Organization 21c

Books read by Subir

A few years ago, I met with a client at his offices in Michigan. It was a large organization, going through some turbulent times.

The organization wasn’t meeting its goals; things weren’t looking good.

Out of nowhere, my client asked me the following question:

“Subir, what do you do with a toothpick when you are done with it?”

I was stunned into silence. Where did this come from?

After a few seconds, I responded that, of course, I would throw it away.

“Exactly,” he responded.

This client then went on to tell me he had spotted a used toothpick on the floor that housed the C-suite offices of his organization.

To me, he seemed overwhelmed by a meaningless piece of garbage.

I asked him, “What’s the big deal? It’s a toothpick. Someone was just careless; it happens.”

That was exactly the point, he explained to me.

To him, that “meaningless piece of garbage” was indicative of a bigger problem: not caring.

To me, it was an “ah ha” moment.

His point was simple, yet profound: unless everyone cares, none of us care.

A caring mindset is paramount to success in work, at home, and in our communities and places of worship. If just one of us stops caring, it creates a domino effect: we all stop caring.

Think about the last time you picked up a piece of trash on the sidewalk, helped your neighbor without being asked, or thanked a co-worker for critical but necessary feedback. These are all small actions, but again, the sum is more powerful than the individual actions.

Caring has a snowball effect because little things add up.

Caring isn’t someone else’s issue—it’s your issue. It’s my issue. It’s your neighbor’s issue. It’s the CEO’s issue.

Caring starts with you: how many “toothpicks” have you picked up today?

A musician that made a difference

One of the most memorable days of my life was meeting my favorite musician, Pandit Ravi Shankar, the legendary Sitar Maestro. Nearly half a century earlier, George Harrison of The Beatles traveled to India to learn sitar from him. A friendship formed, and it reshaped aspects of The Beatles music. Likewise, Ravi’s music had a huge impact on my own life.

Center for Bangladesh Studies at UC Berkeley

The Subir & Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies at the University of California, Berkeley has an ambitious mission ahead. At the top of their list are innovative projects that aim to improve garment-industry safety, apps to solve social problems, and gathering data on antibiotic-resistant bacteria found on fruits and vegetables. And that's only a month after it opened on March 30.

Maruti-Suzuki and the Quality Way

Quality is defined by the customer. It happens when we are willing to listen to each other, enrich our experiences, and optimize our opportunities to improve. Quality comes when we have a mindset for honesty, integrity, resistance to compromise, and ethical behavior. What we want is for quality to be an automatic response to everyday encounters. When this mindset becomes part of the organization’s DNA – its very essence – then we can say that Quality is everyone’s business.

How to make everyone a S.T.A.R.

One company had a return that equaled 5 times the cost of their investment in the program. Another company had a return that equaled 100 times the cost of their investment! It’s a true story. I know, because both companies were clients of my firm. Both companies got a return on their investment, but I still felt both frustrated and perplexed that one had done so much better. The reason for the difference kept puzzling me—why would one company do so much better using the same processes?