Tag Archives: learning

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. If you can’t make the live event, I strongly recommend listening to the audio download once it is made available.

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: