Misconceptions: W. Edwards Deming and Systems Thinking

Monday, June 1, 2009 by Tripp Babbitt
I find it interesting that the most quoted Deming phrase on Twitter is "It is not necessary to change, survival is not mandatory."  This is probably because Tony Robbins used it.  I have added another series of Deming phrases and one this past week drew many questions, it reads:

"For Quality:
Stamp out fires, automate, computerize, MBO, install merit pay, rank people,
best efforts, zero defects.
Missing ingredient:
Profound Knowledge."

Too often I have seen folks try to fit Deming into their own paradigm rather than realizing he was on a whole different plane of thinking.  We are guilty of making Deming what we wanted him to be, instead of who he was.  Hopefully, this will encourage people to read Out of the Crisis and The New Economics

I first went to one of Dr. Deming’s four-day seminars back in 1987 and saw him him many times there after.  The problem with this is I (like many Deming supporters) got more enthralled by the man, rather than the thinking.  This made it easy to make him be what fit our existing paradigm where he really wanted to change our mindset.

History has shown that the "sticky" issues have long been ignored.  We still automate or overuse technology whether we need to or not.  Many organizations are still using MBO.  Merit pay and ranking people are still in place to "motivate" people.  We still try to overcome systemic business problems by best efforts and zero defects.  The thinking never changed.

I have written many management articles and blogs regarding systems thinking where hopefully I am addressing more of the thinking than the man without ignoring Dr. Deming’s tremendous contributions. Like his System of Profound Knowledge (from The New Economics): appreciation for a system, theory of variation, theory of knowledge and psychology.  They all teach us a different way to think and in a management paradox to the way management currently thinks.

This is my 100th blog. I am hopeful that we can begin to address the fundamental thinking problem that stands in the way of a majority of organizations.  The conventional wisdom of command and control thinking has all the momentum. But to quote Socrates: "You can’t find the truth by counting heads" and so our search for profound knowledge continues.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com "Understanding Your Organization as a System" and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt.


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