About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

18 November 2009

The Doctor Is In

When the name W. Edwards Deming comes up today, most people think immediately of the system of measurement - statistical process control - that he learned from Walter Shewhart of Bell Labs, and began teaching to Japanese business leaders in 1950. Some also remember that there is an award given in his name every year - The Deming Prize - to a company that has successfully advanced the quality of its products. Still others associate his name with a checklist - The 14 Points for Management. And, while these are the leaves - and maybe the tree - of Deming's work, they are certainly not the roots. In Deming's own words:
"The prevailing style of management must undergo transformation. A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside. My aim is to provide an outside view—a lens—that I call a System of Profound Knowledge. It provides a map of theory by which to understand the organizations that we work in. The 14 Points for Management follow naturally as application of this outside knowledge."
There are four parts to Deming's System of Profound Knowledge:
  • Appreciation of a system: how disparate parts work together to produce a result
  • Knowledge of variation: the ranges and causes of variation in quality
  • Theory of knowledge: concepts explaining knowledge; the limits of what can be known
  • Knowledge of psychology: concepts of human nature
Systems thinking? Variety? Epistemology? Id, ego, super ego? Yes! All that ... and more. Deming was first, and foremost, a management philosopher.

Deming's notions have been applied almost exclusively within large, for-profit businesses; most often in manufacturing operations. But if you really stop to think about it, you can begin to imagine ways you might apply them in much smaller, non-business groups such as:
  • Your family
  • A youth sports team you are coaching
  • A class you are teaching
  • A civic or church group to which you belong

Here are a few of Deming's 14 Points. For each point listed, have a discussion centered around how to apply it to better a family, a team, etc. And, remember to think metaphorically - not literally.
  • Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and stay in business, and to provide jobs
  • Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company
  • Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.
  • Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.
"Without theory, there are no questions." - W. Edwards Deming
"Making mental connections is our most critical learning tool, the essence of human intelligence: to forge links; to go beyond the given; to see patterns, relationship, context." - Marilyn Ferguson
"There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun." - Pablo Picasso
"The most important lesson I’ve ever learned is to understand and to trust abstractions. If you can learn both to see and to believe in life’s underlying patterns, you can make highly informed decisions every day. For example, everyone in high tech is familiar with Moore’s Law, which states that computer-processing power will double every 18 months. Now, Moore’s Law isn’t a law in any physical sense, but it has driven and will continue to drive our industry’s development. Yet very few people and very few companies really take this law to heart because really embracing it leads to seemingly nonsensical projections. Five years ago, when I told people that we’d have the processing power that we have today, lots of them even those who said they believed in Moore’s Law thought I was being ridiculous." - Nathan Myhrvold, former Chief Technology Officer Microsoft

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