Don’t Threaten People with This Famous Dr. Deming Quote
One of the more popular email signature quotes that I see (at least amongst Lean practitioners) is this priceless gem from Dr. W. Edwards Deming:
“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
It seems that this quote, and a few other Deming-isms, are more popular than Dr. Deming’s actual teachings.
The line does not appear in either of Dr. Deming’s main books, either Out of the Crisis or The New Economics (at least according to my attempts at searching electronically via Google Books and Amazon).
Update: Clare Crawford-Mason, who worked closely with Deming (my podcast with her is here), says the quote was actually “Survival is optional. No one has to change.”
I suppose it’s a Deming-ism that he used in his famous seminars. Does anyone have a definitive citation? I hope the quote isn’t urban legend like the incorrect attribution of “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” to Dr. Deming.
I think Dr. Deming had a valid point, in my interpretation of it — that no company is entitled to success forever, just because – whether that’s General Motors, Dell (yikes, two companies I used to work for) or a standalone community hospital. While Dr. Deming said sometimes you need to “don’t just do something, stand there” (when you have a stable system that you want to avoid tampering with), his point that was that companies need to embrace his new management philosophy.
There are times I have seen online discussions or emails that make some sort of supposedly “Lean” point that would have made Dr. Deming shake his head, such as “You need to give people incentives and quotas for Kaizen ideas, or they won’t participate” or “you need to demand a 10% cost reduction from your suppliers each year and play them off each other to get the best price.” And each one of those gems that contradicts Deming’s teaching is followed by an email signature like:
Bozo D. Clown, CLSSMBBOTHO*
“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory” – W. Edwards Deming
*CLSSMBBOTHO is Certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt of the Highest Order, by the way (a level I made up, not to be confused with Jack Donaghy’s “Six Sigma Black Belt Ultra.”
That Deming quote is sometimes used in a vaguely threatening way by consultants or leaders. Somebody might be trying to force “compliance” or “accountability” with some sort of top-down process change. When somebody objects (often with good reason or, at least, with a better understanding of the system than the “boss”) the boss might retort with the Deming quote.
In other words – do as I say, otherwise if you don’t, you object to change, therefore you’re not going to survive.Be careful with this #Deming quote: 'It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.' Click To Tweet
When I see that quote in an email signature, I’m tempted to ask the person if, in the context of Lean or Six Sigma (or Lean and Six Sigma… please don’t call it “Lean Sigma”):
- Have you ceased dependence on inspection as a way to achieve quality?
- Are you driving out fear?
- Are you going to single source suppliers instead of pitting vendors against each other for short-term savings?
- Have you eliminated slogans, exhortations, and targets for the workforce?
- Are you planning to eliminate numerical quotas for the workforce or management?
- Did you already eliminate the annual performance review, ratings, and the merit system?
At the least, locally, have you:
- Taken steps to let each person you work with have joy in work?
- Applied the lessons of common cause vs. special cause variation?
- Taken steps to understand and manage each person as an individual?
- Tried to tap into people’s intrinsic motivation?
Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda, Chairman and former President (1982-1999) of Toyota, said:
Every day I think about what he meant to us. Deming is the core of our management.
That said, I don’t think modern Toyota follows every one of Dr. Deming’s recommendations.
But, don’t you think you should follow at least SOME of them if you are throwing around Deming quotes in your email signatures? Do you ever challenge people when they use Deming quotes — do you really follow what he taught?