This month the ASQ Influential Bloggers were asked to respond to the question – will the future of quality be evolutionary or revolutionary?
I think it has been and will continue to be both.
Revolutionary change is powerful but very difficult for entrenched people and organizations to actually pull off. It is much easy to dream about doing so.
Often even revolutionary ideas are adopted in a more evolutionary way: partial adoption of some practices based on the insight provided by the revolutionary idea. I think this is where the biggest impact of W. Edwards Deming’s ideas have been. I see him as the most revolutionary and worthwhile management thinker we have had. But even so, few organizations adopted the revolutionary ideas. Most organizations nibbled on the edges and still have a long way to go to finally get to a management system he was prompting 30,40 or more years ago.
A few organizations really did some revolutionary things based on Deming’s ideas, for example: Toyota. Toyota had some revolutionary moves and adopted many revolutionary ideas brought forward by numerous people including Taichii Ohno. But even so the largest impact has been all those that have followed after Toyota with the lean manufacturing strategies.
And most other companies have taken evolutionary steps from old management paradigms to adopt some new thinking when trying out lean thinking. And frankly most of those efforts are so misguided or incredible small they barely qualify. But for those that successfully improved their management system they were mainly evolutionary.
This often means executives hardly changed their behaviors or thinking at all. That is not what is needed. The place where management improvement is most needed is in the executive suite. The changes should be most visible there. This is true for evolutionary or revolutionary change actually, but certainly if the practices of the executive suite are not dramatically, noticeably different that is not revolutionary change in quality or the practice of management.
When improvement is consistently nurtured great things can happen.
The consistent application of evolutionary change can result in revolutionary results (birds provide evidence we can see every day – they evolved from dinosaurs). Luckily, evolutionary management improvement takes less time than evolution in animals to provide revolutionary results. It still isn’t quick. But another few decades of evolutionary management improvement may provide us revolutionary outcomes in the practice of management in the executive suite. We can hope it does while we do our best to help move us in that direction.
Related: Be Better, and Different (when sensible) – we need to be good at both breakthrough and incremental innovation – Toyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair – How to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept Adopted – Posts on evolution from the Curious Cat Science Blog