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Dec 30, 2019

In our 32nd "Deming Lens" episode, host Tripp Babbitt shares his interpretation of wide-ranging aspects and implications of Dr. Deming's theory of management. This week he looks at Dr. Deming and some of the thoughts and people involved in "appreciation for a system."

Show Notes

Deming Institute Podcast - Deming Lens Episode #32

History of Systems Thinking - General System Theory

Systems Thinking - Organizational Structure

Analytical vs. Synthetic Thinking - The Parts vs the Whole

The Aim and Systems Thinking




Tripp: [00:00:14] This is Deming Lens Episode 32 in this episode, we'll be talking about systems thinking some of the history and people involved in it and then some of the applications of it.


Tripp: [00:00:28] Hi, I'm Tripp Babbitt Host of the  Deming lens and in this episode I want to talk about systems thinking I have over the years read many books on the subject and it is the first of Dr Demings for components that make up his system, a profound knowledge which he talks about appreciation for a system. And I will start with a little bit of history. We'll talk a little bit about organizational structure from a systems thinking standpoint. We'll talk about how our minds are made up of analytical thinking. We'll talk also about Russell Ackoff as an architect. I think it's a great example that he would use. And then the last thing is I want to talk about systems thinking in terms of the aim of an organization.


Tripp: [00:01:30] So let's start with a little bit of history, which is the first of the five pieces of this and the people involved in it. And the original as far as I'm aware, the original thought around general systems thinking came from Ludwig von Bertalanffy Bertalanffy. He wrote a book actually called General Systems Theory. It's an interesting read. I do find it very interesting also that the concept of systems and general systems theory comes from his work in biology. So there was a lot of times I've talked to people over the years and they don't think science should mix with business and organizations and and things of that sort. But I disagree with that from the standpoint of we've learned a lot from science and it does shed light on the way that organizations are put together and how they interact. And as new theories develop, I'm sure that the advancement may come from science. So Bertalanffy may have actually done a seminar or presented a paper that W. Edwards Deming was in attendance.


Tripp: [00:02:54] Now, I have not been able to verify that someone had written that it was actually a professor and I reached out to him and he was not able to find his original notes on the crossover between Bertalanffy and Deming. But I would say since Dr. Deming was knowledgeable about systems thinking that there's a good possibility since the paper that he released was in or had been working on was in the late 1940s, and then he put it in the 50s. So he was presenting a paper, is most likely presenting it before it was put into a book format.


Tripp: [00:03:37] So Bertalanffy is one of those people that really started this this whole movement, at least as I said, as best as I could find. I don't know that you get a lot if you're working on an organization from Bertalanffy, but I will put links out so that you can get a hold of his book. Another person that I read her book was Donella Meadow's, which is Thinking and Systems, and I think it's a good general overview of systems thinking.


Tripp: [00:04:13] And then there is also Russell Ackoff and Peter singing and Russell a cough is probably makes up most of my thinking around systems thinking other than what Dr. Deming wrote as part of a system of profound knowledge. Now, I remember Dr. Deming basically said you don't have to be an expert in each one of the areas of his system or profound knowledge. So systems, thinking, variation, theory, variation, theory, knowledge and psychology. Or knowledge about variation and and psychology. But if you wanted to get deeper, which I enjoy doing, I like to go back. I liked understand the history. I like to understand how things moved over a period of years with regards to the thinking and how is it advancing what we're doing. But Russell Ackoff to me wrote in in a language that I could understand better. Peter Senge wrote some good stuff. And I know people that really get a lot out of his readings. I just didn't get what I needed from Peter Senge. Now, Russell Ackoff wrote a number of books. There's some things I agree with him on. There's some things I disagree with him on. One would be idealized redesign. I think that that systems are not scoped out and then you build to it because I think by the time you build it, it's it needs to be improved. So there has to be this component of almost a dynamic system that's constantly renewing itself as opposed to constantly building models that you have to build to.


Tripp: [00:05:54] But that could be a whole another Deming lens and maybe at some point in the future. So anyway, those are the players that there are many others that are out there have written in. And I apologize. I haven't read everyone's work, but I've read others works. But those people stand out in my mind as probably the most influential. From where I sit on the subject as systems thinking.


Tripp: [00:06:23] Now. The what's what's kind of go with the second part about organizational structure and let's think in terms of some of things I've talked about in the past, which is Frederick Taylor and Taylor ism and talk in terms of how we've built most of our organizations and for all of our technological advancements.


Tripp: [00:06:50] Most organizations are all designed in the same way. We've separated out the pieces that make up an organization like sales and operations and counting and things of that sort. But it's from one perspective, it is all one system that has to work together in order to achieve its optimal ability to work as a system.


Tripp: [00:07:21] So Taylor separated the parts he was working on and thinking in terms of optimizing each of the parts of an of an organization, and this kind of takes me back to something that Ackoff said, which is a system taken apart, loses its essential properties. So it's this whole thinking of if we add up the pieces, if we break them apart and we add them up, then we will get what the system is capable of doing. And we also know from Russell AcKoff, the system is greater than the sum of its parts. There's the interaction of them. And there's actually a good song out there. I was presented by someone who I thought was a systems thinker. It turned out later that they really weren't. But it was a good song, which is Johnny Cash had has a song about building a Cadillac and it called One Piece at a Time.


Tripp: [00:08:31] So taking each of the best parts of a Cadillac from year to year and building the Cadillac from apart from, you know, 1959, 1960 and so forth and trying to build a car from that, I actually put a link in to Johnny Cash's song One Piece at a time, because it's a great representation of the way that we've kind of built organizations in the way that we think about things and in our analytical thinking, which is this is a great Segway into the third part I wanted to talk about, which is systems thinking versus this analytical thinking that we break down things into pieces and it's a natural thing. It's innate. As children, we take things apart, you know, and that's just kind of the way it's built in to a human is breaking those things apart.


Tripp: [00:09:33] The product of analysis is how things work. Not why they work the way that they do. So one of the things I do as I was watching some old Russell Ackoff videos I found was, you know, why was does a car have the engine in the front instead of someplace else in the car? Well, if you break it down a car and you break it out in the different pieces, the door, the engine, and and so it's not gonna tell you why the engine is is in front. What what you have to know or what you have to think in terms of is the system is that the car was originally called a horseless carriage. And so where were horses? Horses were in front.


Tripp: [00:10:20] So we have to be able to take that and understand that that analysis takes you inside the system. But an explanation takes you. Outside the system.


Tripp: [00:10:38] Now, what are the things I didn't know that I find very interesting was that apparently Russell, Ackoff, was an architect, and he said that architects are naturally systems thinkers. Which I thought was was interesting. And he gives us the example of that,  an architect drawls the house first or the building first, the whole. Then he adds the barrooms and the parts and things of that sort. And they go off of an architect would build off a systems principle of it, basically only improve a room in a way that improves the house.


Tripp: [00:11:17] So the house has to be better by virtue of improving a room. But if it takes away from the whole which is the house, then it's something you wouldn't do. In a matter of fact He makes the comment that if he can make a room worse and make the house better, that he would do it as an architect and that the objective was to build the best house, not the best rooms. And actually in this video, he gave a good example. Somebody who had to run up and down the stairs a lot in order to get to the kitchen and take things back upstairs and so forth. And they said, hey, I need a dumbwaiter so that, you know, you put the food in, I can get it up to the second floor without having to run back and forth down the stairs each time.


Tripp: [00:12:05] And with the understanding that that would take away room from the kitchen, making the kitchen worse. But for that system, it made it overall better. And I think these are some of the concepts that most organizations are still missing today is that we're not taking a good look at. These kind of counterintuitive, the counter intuitive nature of some of the things that you find in systems in order to make a hole better. Now, Russell, Ackoff talks in terms of, you know it with analysis that you're taking things apart. You explain the behavior of the part and then you try and aggregate, aggregate and understanding the parts to aggregate understanding of the whole. And this gets in to that. A system is greater than the sum of its parts and analysis does not get us there. What he's presenting instead is synthetic thinking is what is this system a part of? So, you know, one of some of Demings favorite favorite quotes were about buggy whips and carburetors and things of that sort. And in order to be able to look at what what system are you and what broader system are you in, your cars are not in the automobile business. They're in the transportation business. So there are things that can threaten, you know, maybe even drones nowadays that can threaten the way that people transport themselves from one location to another. So the synthetic thinking is what is this this system a part of? Explain that behavior. The second step is explaining the behavior, the containing whole. And then it is disaggregating the understanding of the containing whole. By identifying the role or function of what you're trying to explain in the whole.


Tripp: [00:14:17] So those are two different actually two different ways of thinking for between being an analytical thinker and a synthetic thinker. And the approach that you take on things. Now, this is a good Segue into this last last piece I wanted to talk about, which has to do with Aim. And this is one of the reasons that in what I'm building and what I believe needs to happen in order to understand Dr. Demings system, a profound knowledge is that, first of all, that it is a philosophy and it doesn't give you a step by step. And as I mentioned in the last Heming lens, it's very difficult to grasp some of the things in the Deming philosophy because they are very counterintuitive to belief systems. Two things that are going on in organizations to what you're being taught in your MBA program. I can tell you everything I learned in my MBA program, I had to unwind in my head once I started reading Dr. Demings works and applying some of thinking that's that's in it. So in order to do that, we have to become critical thinkers.


Tripp: [00:15:30] So part of what I'm building in separate activity that I'm doing away from the Deming Institute is how do we look at our organization and look at it as a system and taking you through. And to me, that's a primary step, is being able to look at our organization as a system. And first of all, conclude that at least over 50 percent of the performance you're and organization, whether it's fifty point one percent or 60 percent or whatever it is, comes from the system and not an individual or outside types of of things that are going on within an organization that it's this interaction of the parts that Dr. Deming talked about, the Russell a cough talked about to degree Bertalan he talked about and certainly Donella Meadow's and Peter Senge talk about AI in their teaching. So I don't know how you can write a name, which is the second part of the system that I'm building. And to you have a good understanding of the system and understanding the business that you're in, because if you're out there improving buggy whips and carburetors, you're out of business. You have to understand what business you're in. And by virtue of that, you have to understand the broader system in which you're contained and for automobiles. It is the transportation system. And to be able to write an aim, you've got to have that particular knowledge.


Tripp: [00:17:07] And I don't believe most organizations have enough systems, knowledge in many cases to put together a good purpose or what references aim, which I views mission, vision, values and key measurements as part of what makes up an aim. But it's the systems thinking component that allows you to get the critical thinking that you need. And it's one of things I'm building in order to come up with a way for people to be able to look at their own system and using neuroscience instead of things I've learned from neuroscience too. And ironically, neuro brains, even though phrenology and different types of things, Yale bumps on the head. We've gone through this evolutionary process of learning and neuroscience where, you know, people thought that a bump in the head meant something and was associated. Then we kind of went to this kind of functional orientation, same as Taylor actually breaking down the pieces and saying, oh, well, if you're afraid, it comes from this part of the brain and the fight or flight comes from the amygdala and those types of things. Well, the more that they've studied the brain, you more they there may be functions that are involved in it on a regular basis. But the more that the interaction with the parts of your brain go to go together and operate as a system. So I'm all of this kind of fits together.


Tripp: [00:18:46] And I think that said, there are some interesting other readings going on with regards to neuroscience. But it's the thing I talked about in the last Deming Lens, which is you can't. Argue you can't out logic somebody. They have to learn on their own and giving them experiences, crafting an experience for them to be able to go through so that they can kind of begin to see things differently. And this is just my view on it. Other people have other things. There are people that go to the Redbead experiment and get it right off. I think that they're most likely in the minority. I was one of those and thought everybody would just get it because the logic just kills you. But it's just not that way. And I think looking at your own organization and being able to to look at it and understand it as a system is is certainly a part of this critical thinking. That and crafting an experience for people to get this type of critical thinking will help them understand the Deming philosophy better. So that's really it. I just want to talk about systems thinking some random thoughts I had about how systems thinking is not only part of Dr. Deming's system, profound, profound knowledge, but potentially where maybe he got some of his initial thinking, maybe did sit in on Bertalanffy Seminars are preset presentation of a paper before his book on general systems theory came out, because there's certainly a lot of parallels between some of the things that Dr. Deming wrote and what's in General Systems theory by Bertalanffy. And I've always enjoyed and Russell Ackoff obviously has been in talks and and things with Dr. Deming in the past.


Tripp: [00:20:43] So that's it for this Deming Lens. Hopefully you learn something and if you have comments or something new, maybe you can correct me on which I am correctable. make no apologies for learning, as Dr. Deming would say, but you can reach me at


Tripp: [00:21:06] Thank you for listening to the Deming Institute podcast. Stay updated on the latest blogs, podcasts, programs and other activities at Deming dot org.