//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?

Fear freezes your ability to be straightforward

When we are scared, nervous, or afraid, we shut out the outside world.  We become less open and transparent. Instead of accepting our true selves, and admitting that we are afraid, we put up a wall designed to keep out the truth.  We make things up to compensate—about how good-looking we are, about how clever or competent we believe ourselves to be, about how much money we make. We lose sight of the importance of being straightforward and honest. Fear can undermine openness and honesty in anyone—including me!

What is your difference?

In the past two decades, I have helped countless organizations improve their processes to find greater success. But over the years, something began to haunt me. I noticed that some organizations using the exact same process or methodology realized enormous savings, while others stumbled. I kept wondering, what is the difference?

Valuable Trash

Not all waste is created equal. Some of it is extremely valuable; especially when it teaches us something about the way we run our business. The owner of an insurance brokerage in Los Angeles, CA – we will call him “Cooper” – relayed this story to us recently.

How will you embrace the truth?

A friend communicated a story to me about Alan Mulally, the former CEO of Ford. When Mulally first joined the organization, he gathered his senior management team together to identify what needed to change at Ford. In a nutshell, Mulally asked his team to color code their initiatives red, yellow, or green. Red meant things were in bad shape—for example, a launch date might be missed. Yellow meant an initiative wasn’t going well, and green meant the initiative was on track.