Tag Archives: learning

Seek to Improve How You Learn, Don’t Just Accept That You Can’t Do Better

photo of several people around a table smiling with red plastic pieces on the table.

Red Squares exercize at the 2 1/2 Deming Seminar in Hong Kong (2014).

As a speaker or coach or teacher it is wise to learn what impacts how people absorb information and learn. Factoring those ideas into how you communicate (one on one, coaching, training, presenting…) is wise.

Learning about how people learn and remember is important to allow you to communite well. And most people seem to understand this. But they also seem to have no shame in not improving their performance in relation to these common weaknesses.

I have never understood why so many people talk about weaknesses in how people learn (people only remember “10% of what they hear, 20% of what they read, and 80% of what they see and do”; you must repeat something 7,9,12… times before most people will remember it; people will retain more if they are given concrete examples relevant to them; people will remember more if they speak or write than if they just passively listen; a good visual will make an idea presented much more likely to be remembered…) but never seem to seek to improve their weaknesses in these areas.

Yes, it is harder for us to retain new information when we just hear about it or if good information is presented poorly. But if you do a much better job of learning and succeed in retaining what you hear or see (even if often people fail to do this well) you will be better off.

Yet what I see is people spouting these statistics, not as a way of learning what they need to improve themselves but as a way of explaining that it is inevitable and they won’t do any better (or even bother to attempt to do so). It just isn’t true that you can’t do better. You can train yourself to learn more than most people when the material is presented in a less than perfect manner by learning how we commonly fail to learn and making efforts to do better yourself.

Sure, learn these common traits to know how you need to take them into account when communicating with others. But also examine yourself and see if you have the same weaknesses and improve in those areas you are weak. Also you can learn from them how to be more successful in retaining good ideas (write them down, think about applying them in your context, make a note to actually apply them at work tomorrow or next week…). You can blame whoever was communicating the ideas to you for failing to present it as well as they should but that won’t help you learn more.

Also companies would be wise to put more effort into helping people learn better. I see lots of focus on how presenters should do better, but very little on how people can improve their capacity to listen and learn. Yes, those presenting should continually seek to improve and be aware of their customers (those they are communicating with). Those that are learning should also seek to improve their ability to learn, even if the way material is presented isn’t optimal.

By the way, you might also want to question much of the claims of what people remember: Mythical Retention Data & The Corrupted Cone.

Related: Effective Communication is ExplicitCommunicating ChangeHow Could They Know? They could learn about the job they were paid to do.
A Powerful Tool for Learning: The Capacity Matrix

Using Technology to Improve The Sharing of Knowledge

This month the ASQ is asking Influential Voices to discuss methods to aid in sharing knowledge. Manu Vora kicked the discussion off with his post on The Gift of Knowledge Transfer Through Technology.

My career has been largely shaped by the pursuit of better ways to communicate. I grew up surrounded by those seeking to improve management (Bill Hunter, George Box, Brian Joiner, Peter Scholtes…). When I was in grade school that focus was largely on statistics and the value of multi-factor experiments (Dad was a statistician who wrote the “bible” on design of experiments, with George Box and Stu Hunter: Statistics for Experimenters). As I moved into high school Dad was doing much more direct management consulting (it was also a combination of statistics, engineering and management but the emphasis shifted over time) based on Deming’s ideas.

The knowledge of how to properly experiment on system with multiple important factors to experiment with (nearly all experiments) has been around for almost 100 years. Yet, even so, still many college level courses talk about the need to adjust one factor at a time (OFAT) and many businesses still experiment this way. The rate at which we incorporate new knowledge is still very poor.

Technology can help improve our adoption of better understanding. Creating a climate and expectation of continued learning is also important, but I won’t talk about that in this post.

I published and presented (I think at an ASQ conference though I can’t recall which one right now) a paper on Using Quality to Develop an Internet Resource in 1999. The purpose of that internet resource was to share knowledge about quality management and the article provides insight into both those ways of looking at what was done (using quality ideas to create a resource and using the internet to spread quality ideas).

A few years later I started this blog to help people find knowledge that would make them more likely to succeed with efforts to improve management. I believe deeply in the value of Deming’s ideas on management but see so many companies make poor attempts to improve management. There are many things needed to improve the success of organizations improvement efforts but I believe the right knowledge (the ideas talked about by Deming, Ackoff, Ohno, Scholtes, etc.) will help a great deal.

Intranets are great tools to share knowledge within your organization. They can also be powerful tools to connect people to internal resources within your organization.

Wikis are a great tool to share a knowledge base (and to maintain things like standardized work, visual job instructions etc.). Wikis are a wonderful technology because of how easy they make the management of shared knowledge. It may well be you print out various things to post and make more visible (depending on what makes sense for the work environment).

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The Value of Professional Conferences. Also Why Has There Been So Little Innovation?

In the most recent ASQ Influential Voices post, Julia McIntosh takes a look at the costs and benefits of professionals attending conferences.

I still remember being in high school and George Box talking about the primary value of conferences was talking to colleagues in the hallway. This seemed very odd to me, as it seemed that the reason for going to a conference was to learn from the talks.

I also didn’t really understand the value in catching up with people in person. I could see it would be somewhat useful but I didn’t really understand the benefits of personal communication. Pretty much all of my communication at that point was person to person. So I didn’t really see the huge loss of fidelity of any other communication (phone, email…).

At early conferences that I attended my main benefit was still in sitting in sessions and learning what people had to say. I did also benefit from discussions with other attendees. And I started to form relationships with others which grew over the years. And over time the networking benefits did exceed the learning from sessions benefits.

Part of this also occurs as your knowledge increases and you have less to learn from the average speaker. George was obviously well past this stage when I was talking to him. For me I still learned a lot from some of the speakers but also found I was learning much less and skipping sessions to talk to people I could learn more from was an increasing benefit. Still I have difficulty doing that and would focus more on networking at lunch, between sessions and in the evening.

The costs of attending conferences are easy for companies to calculate. The benefits they bring are very hard to calculate. I can see why companies often are very tight with budgets for conferences.

Egyptian carving of figures into a stone sarcophagus

A stone sarcophagus from ancient Egypt. I took this photo after presenting a Deming 2 1/2 day seminar in Boston (at the Boston Fine Arts Museum – see more photos).

I think the benefits of getting people outside the building and letting them interact with others to learn and think about new ideas is very valuable. I do think it is much less valuable in most companies than is should be because they have bad management systems that are atrophied with poor practices that are going to be extremely difficult to improve even if people have good ideas to try.

The organization really should focus on improving the management system so it isn’t such a barrier to improvement. But I think most organizations instead find it easy to just estimate a poor return on investments in conferences because those returning don’t actually make any improvements. Again, I think the cause of the failure to improve is more about the bad management system than the benefit of the conferences.

Of course, to some extent, the conferences should be focusing on how to improve given so many attendees organizations are crippled with a poor management system. But often people seem reluctant to acknowledge or discuss that. And those that point out problems often are seen as the problem (based on their actions – I can only conclude blaming the messenger makes sense to some people). And these factors are often even more pronounced in those the organization is willing to invest in (they are often more focused on making the bosses happy rather than something like improvement and change which often rubs people the wrong way).

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Children are Amazingly Creative At Solving Problems

This story at NPR reminded my of Russell Ackoff talking about the creativity kids show in solving problems* – and how school often stifles that creativity.

Preschoolers Outsmart College Students In Figuring Out Gadgets

Children try a variety of novel ideas and unusual strategies to get the gadget to go. For example, Gopnik says, “If the child sees that a square block and a round block independently turn the music on, then they’ll take a square and take a circle and put them both on the machine together to make it go, even though they never actually saw the experimenters do that.”

This is flexible, fluid thinking — children exploring an unlikely hypothesis. Exploratory learning comes naturally to young children, says Gopnik. Adults, on the other hand, jump on the first, most obvious solution and doggedly stick to it, even if it’s not working. That’s inflexible, narrow thinking. “We think the moral of the study is that maybe children are better at solving problems when the solution is an unexpected one,” says Gopnik.

And that flexibility may disappear earlier than we think. Gopnik’s lab has also compared toddlers and kindergartners in doing these tests of abstract thinking, and found that the diaper set are actually better at focusing on the relationship between the objects, rather than on the things.

To those, like me, that use Deming’s ideas to help understand and improve management it is apparent these findings relate directly to two areas of Deming’s management system: psychology and theory of knowledge (how we know what we know).

Understanding how our psychology limits are effectiveness can be used to counter those tendencies.

And as Daniel Boorstin said:

“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.”

Understanding the limits of our knowledge and our tendency to become rigid in our thinking can help us avoid blinding ourselves to options. Our brains overrule options without us consciously even knowing that is happening; it takes effort to overcome this tendency.

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George Box Webcast on Statistical Design in Quality Improvement

George Box lecture on Statistical Design in Quality Improvement at the Second International Tampere Conference in Statistics, University of Tampere, Finland (1987).

Early on he shows a graph showing the problems with American cars steady over a 10 years period. Then he overlays the results for Japanese cars which show a steady and significant decline of the same period.

Those who didn’t get to see presentations before power point also get a chance to see old school, hand drawn, overhead slides.

He discusses how to improve the pace of improvement. To start with informative events (events we can learn from) have to be brought to the attention of informed observers. Otherwise only when those events happen to catch the attention of the right observer will we capture knowledge we can use to improve. This results in slow improvement.

A control chart is an example of highlighting that something worth studying happened. The chart will indicate when to pay attention. And we can then improve the pace of improvement.

Next we want to encourage directed experimentation. We intentionally induce informative events and pay close attention while doing so in order to learn.

Every process generates information that can be used to improve it.

He emphasis the point that this isn’t about only manufacturing but it true of any process (drafting, invoicing, computer service, checking into a hospital, booking an airline ticket etc.).

He then discussed an example from a class my father taught and where the students all when to a TV plant outside Chicago to visit. The plant had been run by Motorola. It was sold to a Japanese company that found there was a 146% defect rate (which meant most TVs were taken off the line to be fixed at least once and many twice) – this is just the defect rate before then even get off the line. After 5 years the same plant, with the same American workers but a Japanese management system had reduced the defect rate to 2%. Everyone, including managers, were from the USA they were just using quality improvement methods. We may forget now, but one of the many objections managers gave for why quality improvement wouldn’t work in their company was due to their bad workers (it might work in Japan but not here).

He references how Deming’s 14 points will get management to allow quality improvement to be done by the workforce. Because without management support quality improvement processes can’t be used.

With experimentation we are looking to find clues for what to experiment with next. Experimentation is an iterative process. This is very much the mindset of fast iteration and minimal viable product (say minimal viable experimentation as voiced in 1987).

There is great value in creating iterative processes with fast feedback to those attempting to design and improve. Box and Deming (with rapid turns of the PDSA cycle) and others promoted this 20, 30 and 40 years ago and now we get the same ideas tweaked for startups. The lean startup stuff is as closely related to Box’s ideas of experimentation as an iterative process as it is to anything else.

Related: Ishikawa’s seven quality control tools

He also provided a bit of history that I was not aware of saying the first application of orthogonal arrays (fractional factorial designs) in industry was by Tippett in 1933. And he then mentioned work by Finney in 1945, Plackett and Burman in 1946 and Rao in 1947.

The Education System

The current topic for ASQ Influential Voices to address is the importance of the education system and the impact on the capability of employees.

The education system is important and not very good in my opinion. As a kid I found it boring and constraining and a system designed more to extinguish my quest for knowledge than increase my desire to learn. As a kid I was told by adults that adults knew better and I shouldn’t complain.

I was told “don’t you realize you are in one of the best school systems in the USA?” With a bit of data I was convinced that seemed likely. To me this seemed like an even more ominous sign. If the best was this bad what was everything else like?

The argument that made the most sense to me (for why I should be happy with, or at least accept, the lousy system I was stuck in) was that as a kid I probably just didn’t understand why this environment that seemed to bore not just me, but most all the kids around me and this system that crushed our desire to learn must somehow be working otherwise the adults would certainly fix it.

As an adult what I find is my thoughts as a kid were essentially completely correct (except that last one that adults wouldn’t stick with some pitiful system without good reason) and plenty of education experts had been saying the same things. Adults seem perfectly fine not adopting proven better education practices just as they are fine not adopting proven better management practices.

When Dr. Deming was asked what to do instead of performance appraisal, when he railed against performance appraisal, he said do “whatever Peter Scholtes says.” To the question of what we should we do about the education system I say do whatever David Langford and Alife Kohn say.

I know more about the specifics of what educational systems following David Langford’s idea are like, and all I can say is they are wonderful. If I had kids I would definitely consider moving somewhere that had such a system (like Leander, Texas where they have been moving down that path for 20 years). They focus on helping student learn in a way that is so much more sensible than the one I had to sit through and most everyone reading this had to sit through.

The percentage of students that graduate with a desire to keep learning from an educational system like Leander is much greater than the traditional path. My high school had more National merit scholars than any public high school in the USA the year I graduated (some prep schools beat us, but only a few – partially because we were so large and they are often small). We had many students that were smart, dedicated and capable of succeeding at prestigious universities. Of course with tons of University of Wisconsin faculty as parents this is not a very surprising result.

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Interview on PDSA, Deming, Strategy and More

Bill Fox interviewed me and has posted part one of the interview on his web site: Predicting Results in the Planning Stage (sorry, the link has been hijacked to forward to an unrelated page [so obviously I removed the link], I have posted the interview which can now be reached here):

Bill: John, what is your best process improvement strategy or tactic that has worked well for you or your clients?

John: I would say the PDSA improvement cycle and a few key practices in using the PDSA properly like predicting the results in the plan stage—something that a lot of the times people do not do—to determine what would be done based on the results of that prediction.

People discover, especially when they’re new to this stuff, regarding the data that they’re collecting, that maybe even if they got the results they are predicting, they still don’t have enough data to take action. So you figure that even if that number is 30, they would need to know three other things before they make the change. So then, in the plan stage, you can figure that you need to address these other issues, too. At any time that people are collecting data is useful to figure out, for instance: “What do we need to do if the result is 30 or if the result is 3?” And if you don’t have any difference, why are you collecting the data?

Another important piece is the D in Plan, Do, Study, Act. It means “do the experiment”. A lot of times, people get confused into thinking that D means deploy the results or something like that, but thinking of D as ‘doing the experiment’ can be helpful.

A really big key between people that use PDSA successfully and those who don’t is that the ones that do it successfully turn the cycle quickly.

Another response:

Bill: What is the biggest misunderstanding about the Deming Management System you think people have?

John: I would say that there are a couple. The followers that want to pin everything to Deming tend to overlook the complexities and nuances and other things.

The other problem is that some of the critics latch on to a specific quote from Deming, something like a one-sentence long quote, and then they extrapolate from that one sentence-long quote what that means. And the problem is that Deming has lots of these one-sentence quotes that are very memorable and meaningful and useful, but they don’t capture every nuance and they don’t alone capture what it really means (you need to have the background knowledge to understand it completely).

They are sort of trying to oversimplify the message into these sound bites, and I find that frustrating. Because those individual quotes are wonderful, but they are limited to one little quote out of hours of videotape, books, articles, and when you don’t understand the context in which that resides, that’s a problem.

See the full interview for more details and other topics. I think it is worth reading, of course I am a bit biased.

Related: more interviews with John HunterInterviews with John Hunter on his book: Management MattersDeming and Software DevelopmentLean Blog Podcast with John Hunter

Experience Teaches Nothing Without Theory

“Experience teaches nothing. In fact there is no experience to record without theory… Without theory there is no learning… And that is their downfall. People copy examples and then they wonder what is the trouble. They look at examples and without theory they learn nothing.”

W. Edwards Deming in The Deming of America

Our brains are good at creating theories, from our experiences, so that our brain can learn. However when this is done only subconsciously we can be led astray. And in complex situations where it is not easy to see the causal relationships (managing human systems for example) it easier for us to be led astray when we are not consciously thinking about the theory driving our thoughts and decisions.

When we are learning (as little kids) we don’t understand that are brain is creating theories to help us learn. But our brain is creating theories and testing them out. What happens when we push the spoon off our high chair? Lets try it 500 times and see. After repeated experiments, we learn a good deal about how gravity will affect objects no matter where you are, no matter if you are in a highchair, or a stroller or a slide or your mother’s lap… We also learn about how people will react (psychology).

Our brains are great at creating theories and testing them even without us understanding that is what is going on. But managers need to push past this subconscious learning to understand the theories behind their actions or they will spend lots of time on activities that are wasteful, similar to the bird in this webcast:

Worm charming is a behavior birds use to encourage worms to go to the surface so the birds can then eat them. The methods used vary, however tapping earth with feet to generate vibrations is widespread. One theory for why the worms go to the surface is the vibrations are similar to those produced by digging moles, which prey on earthworms.

This bird doesn’t understand the theory behind their instinct. Therefore the bird can’t understand that a worm is not likely to burst through the pavement. Too often managers are applying behaviors without understanding the theory (or without evidence showing that the practice based on the theory is effective – failing to practice evidence based management). And so the managers don’t understand that the behavior will not be successful given the conditions they find themselves in.

Related: We are Being Ruined by the Best Efforts of People Who are Doing the Wrong ThingHow We Know What We KnowThe Illusion of Knowledge

Peter Senge on Systems Thinking

People must be willing to challenge their mental models in order to find non-obvious areas of high leverage – which allow significant improvement.

System thinking is a term that is often confusing to people. From my perspective it is important to understand the importance of leverage. Understanding systems lets you find solutions that may not be direct, but provide powerful leverage. Another important point is looking at the organization as a system.

Understanding the interdependence of the aspects of the system/organization/process is also important (and part of seeing the organization as a system). We often don’t consider how changes will impact other areas of the system that are not immediately apparent. This weakness in how we often think today, results in great opportunities to improve by factoring in the impacts that are not as obvious.

As Peter Senge mentions in the video the concept of long term thinking plays a role. Often we are now neglecting or vastly under-appreciating long term impacts (focusing on only the results in the short term) and thus often their are opportunities to improve just by factoring in not just the short term impacts but also placing importance on longer term impacts.

Peter Senge: “Its not about the smartest guys in the room its about what we can do collectively. So the intelligence that matters is the concept of collective intelligence.”

Related: We are Being Ruined by the Best Efforts of People Who are Doing the Wrong ThingHow to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept AdoptedBuild an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation Flourishes

The Art of Discovery

Quality and The Art of Discovery by Professor George Box (1990):


Quotes by George Box in the video:

“I think of statistical methods as the use of science to make sense of numbers”

“The scientific method is how we increase the rate at which we find things out.”

“I think the quality revolution is nothing more, or less, than the dramatic expansion of the of scientific problem solving using informed observation and directed experimentation to find out more about the process, the product and the customer.”

“It really amounts to this, if you know more about what it is you are doing then you can do it better and you can do it cheaper.”

“We are talking about involving the whole workforce in the use of the scientific method and retraining our engineers and scientists in a more efficient way to run experiments.”

“Tapping into resources:

  1. Every operating system generates information that can be used to improve it.
  2. Everyone has creativity.
  3. Designed experiments can greatly increase the efficiency of experimentation.

An informed observer and directed experimentation are necessary for the scientific method to be applied. He notes that the control chart is used to notify an informed observer to explain what is special about the conditions when a result falls outside the control limits. When the chart indicates a special cause is likely present (something not part of the normal system) an informed observer should think about what special cause could lead to the result that was measured. And it is important this is done quickly as the ability of the knowledgable observer to determine what is special is much greater the closer in time to the result was created.

The video was posted by Wiley (with the permission of George’s family), Wiley is the publisher of George’s recent autobiography, An Accidental Statistician: The Life and Memories of George E. P. Box, and many of his other books.

Related: Two resources, largely untapped in American organizations, are potential information and employee creativityStatistics for Experimenters (book on directed experimentation by Box, Hunter and Hunter)Highlights from 2009 George Box SpeechIntroductory Videos on Using Design of Experiments to Improve Results (with Stu Hunter)

Your Brain Can Jump to Incorrect Conclusions

How our brain works without us realizing it often is hugely beneficial, but it also creates some faulty conclusions at times. The video gives a good synopsis of the quick intuitive leaps our brains make all the time. These are extremely helpful, but occasionally lead us to fall into traps.

I have discussed these idea before: The Illusion of Knowledge, Optical and Other Illusions. By understanding some of the traps our brain can fall into, we can improve our decision making.

By learning that our “system 1 brain” will jump to immediate answers but may make some risky assumptions in seeking the quickest answer we can learn to question that conclusion. I find building the case for that conclusion (and questioning the assumptions) is helpful.

The trickiest part is figuring out when to apply more conscious effort to exploring the options. I do not believe the quip “don’t assume” is useful. We have to make hundred of assumptions every day or we couldn’t make any progress. If I don’t assume the floor will support my weight I have to be very careful getting out of bed, then the stairway, then whether food is safe to eat, whether the brakes still work on my car…

We have to assume. But it is helpful if we can intelligently question our immediate conclusions if it is important to do so. Optical illusion are interesting, most often the mistakes our brain makes are not important to us. But if such a conclusion was important, knowing to question your system 1 response will give you the chance to improve.

Related: We are Being Ruined by the Best Efforts of People Who are Doing the Wrong ThingHow We Know What We KnowFlaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed Management DecisionsAlbert Einstein, Marylin Monroe Hybrid Image

How Could They Know?

I am a big fan of Dr. Deming’s ideas on management. The way I see one of the quotes of Dr. Deming used I don’t agree with. Dr. Deming said “How could they know?” to explain why people continued to follow less successful practices (for example, page 55 of Out of the Crisis). How could they know of better practices, he would say.

I must say I have always thought the answer to that question was pretty easy. They could learn about the job they were paid to do. It is a shame that many organizations do a very poor job of preparing or coaching those they promote into management for their new position. However, I don’t see that as an excuse to fail to learn yourself.

There are plenty of books with great information. How could they know? They could read.

Yes, there are also plenty of management books filled with nonsense. That does make it a bit more difficult. But I still don’t have much sympathy for hearing, “how could they know” as a reason for continuing performance appraisals or failing to understand variation or falling to know that “motivating” through monetary rewards backfires or… If you wish to manage human systems I don’t think it is too much to expect you to know about how to do so, and have the knowledge to distinguish nonsense from well reasoned thoughts.

If you want to take on a management job you should take your responsibility seriously. Choosing not to take advantage of the wealth of great material in the past 70 years on how to manage more effectively is not a decent excuse. How could they know? They could take responsibility to learn. If they chose not to do so that is their choice. They chose not to know. I guess some can see that as an acceptable excuse. I don’t.

If they are trying to apply ideas and having trouble: I have sympathy for that. Applying ideas on management is not easy. Human systems are complex and there are no simple guides that tell what is needed in your specific situation and organization. but ignorance of basic management principles, with no evidence of concerted efforts to learn I don’t have sympathy for.

I seem to expect more from managers than most people I talk with. Most seem to find it a perfectly acceptable excuse that a manager never bothered to learn about management. I don’t really understand that. Dr. Deming did seem to hold senior executives accountable for failing their organizations, but he was more accepting of manager’s ignorance than I am.

Read and use The Leader’s Handbook and The Improvement Guide and you will be well ahead of most of the management practice I see.

Related: Curious Cat Essential Management BooksBad Management Results in LayoffsThe Importance of Management Improvement

Web Seminar with Gerald Suarez: Better Thinking About Leadership

In2In offers some great opportunities for those interested in management improvement. Their conference is excellent. They also offer various conference calls with speakers knowledgeable about Deming and Ackoff’s ideas. These normally take the form of conference call presentations (similar to a podcast) followed by some question and answers. The consistently get remarkable people like, Gerald Suarez, and earlier: Peter Scholtes and Brian Joiner.

Gerald Suarez is kicking off the new InThinking Network monthly webinar series. I worked for Gerald at the White House Military Office. He is one of the best presenters and most knowledgeable experts on Deming and Ackoff’s ideas working today.

Gerald Suarez will present on February 9th on the topic of “Better Thinking About Leadership.” This is a great opportunity and there is no cost to participate. If you participate from outside the USA you can connect via Skype (from the USA you will be given a toll-free number to connect with – or Skpye, if you wish). If you can’t join the call, audio downloads will be available at some later date. Register here. If you can’t make the live event, I strongly recommend listening to the audio download once it is made available.

The format of these sessions is a 90-minute session, each month – from February through November. They are held the second Thursday of the month, from 11:30 AM to 1 PM Pacific Time.

Future sessions that we have to look forward to include:

  • Paul Hollingworth will present in March: An Introduction to Systems Thinking
  • Graham Rawlinson, in May to explore “Thinking About Thinking”
  • Gipsie Ranney, in September: “Cause(s) of Concern,” a session designed to present and advance the understanding of common causes and special causes of variation.

Gerald is currently a professor on the faculty of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith business school and works as a consultant and keynote speaker. Look for him to share his expertise in leadership, which includes 8 years of service in the White House under Presidents Clinton and Bush, as the Director of Presidential Quality — the first such post in the institution’s history.

Related: Transformation and Redesign at the White House Communications AgencyManaging FearThe aim of leadership is not merely to find and record failures of men

I Will Co-Facilitate a Deming Seminar in Singapore July 25-27

image of the Deming medal

The W. Edwards Deming Institute is working with the NTUC LearningHub to offer management seminars in Singapore. I will be co-facilitating a Deming 2 1/2 day seminar in Singapore with Kelly Allan in July.

The 2 1/2 day Seminar, Deming’s New Philosophy of Management, is open for registration to the public.

In the seminar you will learn the way of thinking taught by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Those ideas have been used by leading companies around the world and the value of these management ideas is as high today as it has ever been. Applying these ideas will allow your organization to achieve higher quality, lower costs and increased productivity. As regular readers of this blog know I often write about these ideas here.

Seminar Overview
Application of Dr. Deming’s “New Philosophy of Management” gives you the insight to remove barriers to success, increase efficiencies, reduce waste, boost motivation, stimulate innovation and understand your organization and its real capabilities. Some improvements are as simple as stopping current practices and enjoying productivity increases. Others require learning and understanding the four key components of the “New Philosophy of Management:”
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Learn by Seeking Knowledge – Not Just from Mistakes

Being open to new ideas and new knowledge is what is needed to learn. Experimenting, seeking out new knowledge is even better.

You can be successful and see an even better way to do things and learn from it. This seems the best way to learn to me – not to just learn from mistakes. Of course this means your goal has to be improvement not just avoiding more mistakes than before.

Your actions are based on theories (often unconsciously): and learning involves improving those theories. Learning requires updating faulty ideas (or learning new ideas – in which case ignorance rather than a faulty theory may have lead to the mistake). Encouraging people to learn from mistakes is useful when it is about freeing them to make errors and learn from them. But you should be learning all the time – not just when you make mistakes.

You can be also be wrong and not learn (lots of people seem to do this). This is by far the biggest state I see. It isn’t an absence of people making mistakes (including carrying out processes based on faulty theories) that is slowing learning. People are very reluctant to make errors of commission (and errors of commission due to a change is avoided even more). This reluctance obviously makes learning (and improvement) more difficult. And the reluctance is often enhanced by fear created by the management system.

It is best to be open and seek out new knowledge and learn that way as much as possible. Now, you should also not be scared to be wrong. Taking the right risks is important to improving – encouraging creativity and innovation and risk taking is wise.

Experiment and be open to learn from what could be better and improve (PDSA is a great way to try things and evaluate how they work). And the idea is not to be so conservative that every turn of the PDSA cycle has no failures. In order to get significant successes it is likely you will try things that don’t always work.

The desire to improve understanding (and the desire to improve results provides focus to the learning) is what is valuable in learning – not being wrong. Creating a culture where being wrong needs to be avoided harms learning because people avoid risk and seek to distance themselves from failure instead of experimenting and digging into the details when something goes wrong. Instead of learning from mistakes people try to stay as far away from them and hide them from others. That is not helpful. But what is needed is more desire to continually learn – learning from mistakes is wise but hardly the only way to learn.

Related: The Illusion of Knowledgeconfirmation biasManagement is Prediction

Continual Learning

There are several things that destroy your ability to be effective. Thinking you have all the answers (which leads to stopping learning) is probably at the top, along with any other reason for stopping learning (more interested in other things, etc.).

How you are taken by people is also very important. If people see you as talking down to them, it is very difficult to have them listen and care about what you say. At the same time I find it even more annoying when people refuse to say something that will annoy anyone (especially in responding to questions). You don’t want to talk down to people, but it is perfectly all right to challenge them. You need to respect them and challenge them to improve how things are being done.

Look at people like Ackoff and Deming. They knew more than pretty much anyone about management. Yet both continued learning until the day they died. They were quick to credit others. They were quick to challenge people but also had an obvious respect and compassion for people.

Related: The Problem with GurusPredicting Improves LearningLearn Lean by Doing LeanImproving Education with Deming’s Ideas

A Theory of a System for Educators and Managers

Excerpts from The Deming Library Volume XXI, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Dr. Russell Ackoff and David Langford demonstrate that educators can begin a quality transformation by developing an understanding of the properties and powers of systems-oriented thinking. You can order the entire video, as well as the rest of The Deming Library.

Great stuff! If you enjoy this blog (the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog), you definitely should watch this webcast. This video has some great insight into education, learning and systems thinking. It also provides a good explanation of systems thinking compared to analysis. Dr. Ackoff: “You cannot explain the behavior of a system by analysis.” “The performance of the whole is never the sum of the performance of the parts taken separately: but it’s the product of their interactions. Therefore, the basic managerial idea introduced by systems thinking is that to manage a system effectively you must focus on the interactions of the parts rather than their behavior taken separately.”

Dr. Deming: “You may reduce defects to zero and go out of business.”

Dr. Ackoff: “Most discussion of education assume that the best way to learn a subject is to have it taught to you. That’s nonsense… Teaching is a wonderful way to learn. Therefore if we want people to learn we have to make them teach.” If you want more on this see David Langford’s work which provides great advice on how to improve learning and education.

Related: Dr. Deming Webcast on the 5 Deadly DiseasesAn Introduction to Deming’s Management Ideas by Peter ScholtesHow to Manage What You Can’t MeasureMarissa Mayer Webcast on Google InnovationTraffic Congestion and a Non-Solution

The Illusion of Knowledge

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge. – Daniel J. Boorstin

Great quote on a topic I discussed in, How We Know What We Know. Dr. Deming included the theory of knowledge as one of the 4 pillars of his management system. When you do not question what you think you know, and conventional thinking, that will keep you from discovery. Now much of conventional wisdom is right, so you often do well accepting whatever most people believe. But to discover you have to seek out new knowledge. And often the process is stopped before you even form the questions, because you think you have knowledge.

How can you understand if your beliefs are in fact knowledge? Test them. Do you have evidence that performance appraisals add value to your organization? Do you have evidence that outsourcing production is beneficial? Do you have evidence that paying CEOs a king’s ransom is helping? What evidence do you have that sales bonuses help the organization? If you don’t have evidence then you have a belief, not knowledge. You can be ignorant and hold a correct belief. Knowledge requires understanding not just correctness. At least that is how I see it, I am not sure what the philosophers say about this.

I also believe you can have evidence that seems to support your belief but still be wrong. You could site examples where sales bonuses seemed to stimulate extra sales that helped your company. But you could be failing to understand the full system and the other factors that 1) helped make the sale and 2) what damage the sales bonuses did that you didn’t consider. Knowledge isn’t easy. But most that are knowledgeable seek to question their beliefs and assumptions.

Related: Bogus Theories, Bad for BusinessThe Illusion of UnderstandingFlaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed Managementconfirmation biasPragmatism and Management KnowledgeOptical Illusions and Other Illusions

Certainty is risky. But I am also basically certain about many things (and think that is wise). I don’t have any doubt about how gravity it going to act on what I see in my daily life. I don’t doubt if I don’t take in liquids for days I will suffer and die eventually. I don’t doubt in trying to manage an organization you need to account for the psychology of people.
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Making Better Decisions

I think the most important thing you can do to make better decisions is to learn from the decisions you make. It sounds easy, but very few people do so effectively.

The best strategy to learn from decisions is to:

Internships Increasing

Hard to find a job, but not an internship

The bullish market for interns is good news for those in college, who find that internships are increasingly required for landing that first job. The summer posts allow students to bolster their resumes, learn more about their field of choice and meet executives who could hire them for full-time positions one day. And they often pay a good wage: on average, $16.33 an hour, or $7,850 over 12 weeks, Luckenbaugh said.

“Students are looking for internships even after their first year,” said Sheila Curran, executive director of Duke University’s career center, noting that 88% of Duke students graduate with at least one internship under their belts. “It’s become expected that you’d have at least one internship during college.”

Universities are also recognizing the increased importance of internships and are working harder to secure spots for their students, said Richard Bottner, founder of Intern Bridge, a college recruiting research and consulting firm. Some colleges are even requiring students to do at least one internship to graduate.

graphic of Deming Scholars internship cycle

The Deming Scholars MBA program at Fordham includes a heavy dose of internships [broken link removed] (“Subject matter is delivered in five integrated learning cycles. Five eight-week sessions of classroom lectures, seminars and study are linked by seven-week internships at participating firms”). Integrating well planned internships can be very valuable to improving learning. By the way if your company would like to host these students you can contact the program to discuss the opportunity.

Curiouscat.com has a web site for locating internships. I would love to get some good management improvement based internships added – there is no charge to add internships. For actual jobs try the Curious Cat Management Improvement job board.

Related: Hiring the Right EmployeesIT Talent Shortage, or Management Failure?Young IT Workers DemandsJoel ManagementThe Joy of Work