A system that promotes critical thinking and puts continual improvement first is one that is well on the way to better management practices. With that mindset the value of quality tools and concepts is clear (and can be tested). Without it, often making the boss happy and letting things stay the way they have always been are the main things that drive behavior in the organization.
Teaching the quality tools in combination with critical thinking is a powerful approach. Students that learn to use quality tools to experiment to achieve quality results from system will be well suited to the modern workplace.
I wish the effort in Costa Rica well. They would be wise to keep these words from Dr. Deming in mind as they go forward:
I read the papers that my students turn in. A whole stack of them. That’s 435 students at Columbia University last semester and 150 at NYU. A lot of papers to read. But I read them. Not to grade them. No, I read them to see how I am doing. Where am I failing? What don’t they understand? Why do they give wrong answers? Why do they have some point of view that I don’t think is right? Where am I failing?
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.
They are several critical paths to address in building our pipeline of future scientists and engineers. First we need to encourage kids to explore these areas. In my opinion, we currently do a pretty good job, sadly, of discouraging kids as much as we can. So reducing those barriers is key, then we need to actually build ways that help kids. We actually do have many good efforts in place to encourage kids to explore their natural curiosity (follow that link for tons of great organization: FIRST, Project Lead The Way, Engineering is Elementary, The Infinity Project etc.). This helps balance out the discouraging of students that our normal classrooms do. But the pool of kids we reach with these efforts now is far too small. And many are so turned off by our traditionally science education that no matter how much they enjoy outside science and engineering projects they are not willing to pursue science and engineering in school.
The next big area is undergraduate and graduate education. At this point we do a good job, for those willing to put up with the current model of education, which is not designed to encourage those who are interested. It is basically up to weed out any students not willing to put up with the current painful model of higher education for science and engineering. The system seems designed to wean out those who are not sufficiently willing to put up with the difficulties they are asked to face. If the only people that would benefit from science and engineering education are those that are willing to deal with the current system, then it might be fine. But I believe we have turned away hundreds of thousands of people that would have done great things with what they learned. I believe those that will not put themselves through the current system can offer great value. We will gain great benefits if we create a system that is designed to maximize the benefits to students.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
– Steve Jobs
Watch this great commencement speech by Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005.
We lost a great person today, when Steve Jobs died at the age of 56. His words are just as important today: you have got to find what you love to do. Keep looking until you find it. It won’t necessarily be easy to do. But life is too short to waste merely getting by.
My father found what he loved and pursued that throughout his life. He also died young. They both died young, but they both had great lives because they took charge to make the most of their lives. By doing what they loved they made the world a better place for many others, and themselves. Take that message to heart and make your life the best it can be.
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.
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. 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.
Dr. Deming was, among other things a professor. He found the evaluation of professors by students an unimportant (and often counterproductive measure) – used in some places for awards and performance appraisal. He said for such a measure to be useful it should survey students 20 years later to see which professors made a difference to the students. Here is an interesting paper that explored some of these ideas. Does Professor Quality Matter? Evidence from Random Assignment of Students to Professors by Scott E. Carrell, University of California, Davis and National Bureau of Economic Research; and James E. West, U.S. Air Force Academy:
our results indicate that professors who excel at promoting contemporaneous student achievement, on average, harm the subsequent performance of their students in more advanced classes. Academic rank, teaching experience, and terminal degree status of professors are negatively correlated with contemporaneous value”added but positively correlated with follow”on course value”added. Hence, students of less experienced instructors who do not possess a doctorate perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course but perform worse in the follow”on related curriculum.
Student evaluations are positively correlated with contemporaneous professor value”added and negatively correlated with follow”on student achievement. That is, students appear to reward higher grades in the introductory course but punish professors who increase deep learning (introductory course professor value”added in follow”on courses). Since many U.S. colleges and universities use student evaluations as a measurement of teaching quality for academic promotion and tenure decisions, this latter finding draws into question the value and accuracy of this practice.
These findings have broad implications for how students should be assessed and teacher quality measured.
This interview (link broken, so removed) with David Langford discusses how to improve education using ideas from Deming. Along with Alfie Kohn, David have long been the learning and management experts I find most valuable.
I have long remembered is his idea that he was the CEO of his classroom. On hearing Deming discuss how critical it was to have the CEO active in a management improvement effort to achieve success he tried to get those above him in the organization chart to change. Which didn’t work very well. Seeing that method was not successful he took a new look and decided to view the problem in a different way.
He looked for what he was in charge of and decided he could decide how to run his classroom. I think this is a very valuable idea for anyone looking to improve their organization. What is your sphere of control? Focus on how you can improve there. Don’t just try to change others. See how you can change and improve what you can.
The interview provides a good insight into the great ideas David has.
“Make changes that let all kids get good grades.”
That comes from the theory (incorrect theory) grades motivate students.
There is no level of education sub-quality that is acceptable. Success or need to work more, which category are you in. B, C, D does not make sense.
In response to: Developing Your Lean Education Plan [the broken link was removed]
If you actually let the lean leaders practice lean management you are probably doing more to help them learn than anything else. Reading is great, but 10 times better when reading to find solutions you need to deal with issues you have in place. Same for going to conferences. Consultants can be a huge help, but if you just bring in consultants without allowing the changes needed to improve they are not much use.
Far more damaging than not approving training, or giving the lean leaders any time to learn, is not giving them freedom to adopt lean practices and actually make improvements in your organization. That is what kills learning, and the desire to learn.
A great lean education plan: give them opportunities to apply what they know. As they gain knowledge and have success give them more opportunities. I think often lean leaders (and management improvement leaders) have to spend so much effort fighting the resistance in the organization they don’t have the energy to seek out much new knowledge. If you can reduce the effort they have to spend on fighting the bureaucracy most lean leaders will naturally focus on learning what they need for the current and future challenges.