To the left is a young baby me. I don't think I was thinking about Dr. Deming as a baby, but thankfully my parents had a lot of intrinsic motivation to take care of me!
One of the many things I admire about W. Edwards Deming is how hard he worked into his 90s. He must have had “pride and joy” in his own work.
I learned from this IndustryWeek piece that Dr. Deming was teaching seminars up until two weeks before his death at age 93.
IndustryWeek was kind enough to share Dr. Deming's last interview, originally published in January 1994, on their website in three parts.
A few highlights… on innovation:
IW: What then is the source of innovation?
Dr. Deming: The source of innovation is freedom. All we have–new knowledge, invention–comes from freedom. Somebody responsible only to himself has the heaviest responsibility. “You cannot plan to make a discovery,” Irving Langmuir said. Discoveries and new knowledge come from freedom. When somebody is responsible only to himself, [has] only himself to satisfy, then you'll have invention, new thought, now product, new design, new ideas.
IW: How does a company, a research manager, a manager of people create an environment where there is freedom?
Dr. Deming: Give people a chance to make use of their diverse abilities, capabilities, family life, education, hopes. Help them to accomplish their aim.
And, on performance reviews and joy in work:
IW: What is the alternative [to performance appraisals]?
Dr. Deming: The alternative is joy on the job. To have it, people must understand what their jobs are, how their work fits in, how they could contribute. Why am I doing this? Whom do I depend on? Who depends on me? Very few people have the privilege to understand those things. Management does not tell them. The boss does not tell them. He does not know what his job is. How could he know? When people understand what their jobs are, then they may take joy in their work. Otherwise, I think they cannot.
Dr. Samuel Culbert continues this fight today, if you'd like to listen to my podcast with him on “Get Rid of the Performance Review!“
And on Baldrige:
IW: What about the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and companies striving for the award. Does that equate to being on a mission to improve quality?
Dr. Deming: No, nothing could be worse. The evil effect of the Baldrige guidelines on American business can never be measured. If you had the Baldrige guidelines in front of you, you would see it asks for data, figures on what cannot be measured. The effect of training, for example. You may spend $20,000 to train six people in a skill. That benefit will come in the future. We'll never be able to measure that benefit. Never. So why do we spend that money for training? Answers are guided by theory. We believe that that training will have its effect on future output. And though we cannot measure that effect, we believe that it is positive. In other words, we govern our actions, our life, by theory. That's good. Without theory, we learn nothing. Theory has temporal spread. That is, the theory that we can hold on to must fit without failure events of the past and predict events of the future.
And on business schools:
IW: Where are American business schools falling short ill design of their curriculum, the things they are teaching?
Dr. Deming: I'm afraid that what they teach is continuance of our present methods of management, which are failures. They teach how to fail, how to continue to fail.
IW: What should they be teaching?
Dr. Deming: I think the teaching ought to be on how to improve. Improvement, understanding of people, understanding of product. In other words, it would require what I call profound knowledge, of which I mean a view from the outside.
I talked last week with John Dyer, an IndustryWeek columnist who got to work with Dr. Deming a bit through GE (they are pictured together in his Twitter and LinkedIn profiles). He told stories about how some parts of GE were trying to learn from Dr. Deming during the Jack Welch era.
Recently, when researching some origins of Six Sigma, I accidentally discovered what Jack Welch wrote about Dr. Deming in his book Straight from the Gut. He (or his ghostwriter) wrote:
“In the early 1990s, we flirted with a Deming program in our aircraft engine business. I didn't buy it as a companywide initiative because I thought it was too theoretical.”
He said Deming's ideas were “too theoretical.” Hmmm… it's probably more like Jack disagreed with most of Deming's 14 points. Jack Welch loved performance appraisal, among other things.
I'm not sure what “a Deming program” is anymore than I know what “a Lean program” is sometimes.
You either adopt the new philosophy and new approach or not. GE didn't. Most organizations didn't.
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