Pragmatism and Management Knowledge

Is the Theory of Constraints (TOC) a Theory?:

I suppose it’s a question of precision then. There are many things that you could argue are useful, if you argue backward from the end result. Yet they are not predictive, or repeatable to any degree of precision. In addition to “last things” there should also be the “next things” that a theory allows for or predicts. As a pragmatist, it’s hard to argue with results. As a Lean thinker, I have to argue for process and predictability.

There are strong ties between Deming’s ideas and the pragmatic philosophy; one paper offers a nice overview: Deming and Pragmatism.

I like George Box’s quote “All Models Are Wrong But Some Are Useful” This can also be dangerous when people don’t understand the limits of usefulness. A danger is that people believe the model is more true than it is (they don’t understand the limitations).

The pragmatists were concerned with the theory of knowledge – how we know what we know. They were very concerned with evaluating thought and beliefs. They believed in testing to determine whether theories were correct. This thinking underpins the Shewhart/Deming/PDSA cycle.

I believe the question raised in the original post is very similar to the struggle Shewhart went through in developing the control chart and Shewhart cycle. He wanted to address the exact issue of finding things that not only appear to be useful (which includes many instances of things that appear to be useful but in fact are not – we people are prone to this in many ways) but are predictably useful.

Related: The Illusion of UnderstandingIllusions – Optical and OtherManagement is PredictionExperiment and Learn

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