Mar 6, 2023
In this, the first in a series of episodes on Awakening Your Inner Deming, Andrew talks with Dr. Bill Bellows about his journey. He started with Taguchi, read his way through other quality "gurus", and finally found Deming in unexpected places - solving big problems in space shuttles along the way!
0:00:02.1 Andrew Stotz: My name is Andrew Stotz. I'll be your host as we continue our journey into the teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Today, I'm here with featured guest Bill Bellows. Bill, are you ready to share your Deming journey?
0:00:15.7 Bill Bellows: I am ready. I've got my seatbelt on, crash protection devices. I'm ready to go, Andrew. [chuckle]
0:00:23.3 AS: And I am ready indeed. So let me introduce you to the audience. Bill's a 35+ year specialist in the field of quality and engineering management. In addition to adjunct professor roles, he is president of InThinking Services, partnering with clients to facilitate the understanding and application of the Deming philosophy. So, Bill, can you tell us a bit about how you first came to even learn about the teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming and what hooked you?
0:00:57.8 BB: Well, I was minding my own business. No. Actually, I finished my graduate studies in 1983 and went to work in the aerospace industry with a sense that I wasn't gonna... [chuckle] I wasn't quite sure I was gonna like it. I greatly enjoyed what I was doing in the field in graduate school, and the work I was to be doing in industry was very similar. So I felt okay, but it didn't take long before I just didn't like it. And I found myself teaching some college classes and then wondering what I wanted to do. And it took about... Two years after I was working at this company, I took a class in problem solving and decision making. A one-week class. And I loved it. I started looking at everything through this lens of a model for decision making, a model for problem solving.
0:02:13.4 BB: And shortly thereafter, I was approached by the training director of the company. We were growing leaps and bounds in terms of business and employment. And this guy came in and was really cool in terms of bringing us what he thought was some really professional development training. And he knew I was excited by this one-week course. And he said, "Bill, how'd you like to be the person in engineering trained in that and to teach this course?" And I was like, "Yeah. Yeah. Sign me up." So I went away for a two-week train the trainer, very intensive training. And what was interesting is I was the only one in the room, two dozen people that wasn't an HR and wasn't a trainer. I didn't know how to train... I was gung ho on the material, but I did not know what it was like to get in front of an audience. And in fact, the instructors used to kid me that I was almost afraid to move beyond the podium. I just wanted to hide behind it.
0:03:17.0 BB: And so I came out of that having been... I have to we prepare for the next day, five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes. Next thing you know, we're preparing these one hour long teachers. And I love... I liked it. And then back at work, the plan was that, given this role as the auxiliary instructor for this material, when people in engineering, my organization, have a need for this training to be used, I'd be called upon. And that was really cool. It got me associated with people I wasn't working with, and it was a much more exciting than what I was doing. And Lo and behold, the guy in training, the director says, "Hey, you know this... " He mentioned Deming's name, and I was a sponge. And I really respected what he was doing. And he gave me... He introduced me to Deming's work. And I remember, I think it was Quality, Productivity and Competitive Position. And I looked at that and I thought, "Okay."
0:04:30.4 BB: But then going back to the problem, we'll come back to that. That was my exposure to Dr. Deming's name. But in parallel, I was working on a very big problem on the... On our number one product, which were gas turbine engines, you could think of as jet engines, for applications in the US Army's battle tank. And we were making 120 of these a month. And I mean, it was a big, big... It was the biggest business of the company. And once or so a year, there'd be a major crisis. We can't ship hardware and the Army would come in and say, "Stop production until you solve this." And I had been dragged into some of those before. And that kind of got me in the realm of, "Hey, why don't you go off and take this training?" So now I'm not sitting in the back of the room. Now I'm in the front of the room but leading the facilitation of these techniques for problem... Mostly problem solving. What is a problem? The car won't start. It used to work.
0:05:38.5 BB: And so we're working on one big problem. And it was... It had incredible relevance relative... This is the height of the Cold War, Andrew. This is '87, '88 timeframe. And there was reason to believe by the Army that the majority of the battle tanks had a problem. And those tanks were the front line of defense of the allied forces in Europe. And so, we were running tests 24/7 trying to solve this, solve this, solve this, solve this, solve this, and we weren't going anywhere. And at one of the meetings, once a month, somebody had to go explain to the army, essentially our lack of progress. At one of those meetings, somebody said General Motors makes the transmissions for the tanks, and whenever they have an issue like this, they use this thing called Taguchi methods. So we're gonna contact General Motors and ask for their help and you're gonna send somebody then in Indianapolis to find out what it is and is it relevant.
0:06:49.8 BB: And so I go to this meeting and I learn about these goings-on, and I turn to the manager of the tank engine program. And I said, "So who's gonna go to Indianapolis?" And he said, "You are." And I looked at him dumbfounded and I said, "Why me?" He says, "You're the problem-solving guy." He says, "I want you to go." And Andrew, I had no interest in going. I was looking for reasons why it made no sense. And in the back of my mind anytime I get into a situation where I'm not happy with whatever it is, I look for something positive to make it appeasing. And believe it or not, I didn't wanna go to Indianapolis, but I thought, but I can go to the Indy 500 Museum, which a neighbor did years ago, and if nothing else, I can go to the Indy museum. And that's really what I was looking forward to, is going to the Indy museum 'cause I thought this meeting was just gonna be a waste of time.
0:07:49.7 BB: And I go into the meeting and I'm... And this is what hooked me on Taguchi then we'll come back to Deming. I go into the meeting and there were these transmission division's top people in Taguchi methods. Well, their senior people, their top most person had recently left the transmission division to go work for a new part of GM called the Saturn Corporation. And I'm thinking, holy cow, your top Taguchi guy is at Saturn, which I knew about. So now I'm thinking, 'cause prior to going out, I did a literature search. We didn't have the internet and I pulled up a bunch of stuff and it was just a mishmash. But when he said, "Our top guy who wrote this book... " and he showed me the book, "went to the Saturn Corporation," I'm thinking, now my ears are perking up.
0:08:56.4 BB: And then he says the other thing that's funny here. They brought in their chief transmission designer and he looked at the drawings of the parts that were failing in the engine. And he says, "This looks like a German design." I don't know anything about design, but he looks at the drawings and he says, "This looks like a German design." And I said, "It is a German design." In fact, I said, "The people who designed this engine designed the very first German jet engine in the late '30s for Hitler." I said, "It's the same team of people." And so anyway, he looked at it and he had some ideas, but that wasn't why I was there. But then the other two guys were there, and the first question they asked me is, "How do you come up with ideas for what's wrong with this tank engine?" I said, "Everyone's got an idea." And I said, "And what if that doesn't work?" He says, "Here's what we do. Somebody comes up with an idea and every idea we come up with, we write it down and we go run a 10-hour test at a thousand bucks an hour, which I thought was expensive.
0:10:01.5 BB: And then at the end of the test, we decide to go forward or not. Are we onto something or not? And he said, "What if it's not?" And I said, "Well, then somebody's always got an idea, somebody's always got an idea. We're running test, we're running test. Well, why are we here?" Because we're running through ideas, running through ideas, and we ain't finding anything. So then he says, "What do you measure?" And it's so funny. I don't know anything about gears other than the gears have teeth. I'm a heat transfer guy. [chuckle] So I said, "After each test, somebody goes to the manager in the gear group and shows them the gears that contact each other," and he holds 'em up and he says, they look good or they look bad. He says, "How does he do that?' I says, "He just looks at 'em." He says, "He doesn't measure anything?" I said, "No, he just holds them up to the light and he says, that looks worn, or that doesn't look worn."
0:11:01.3 BB: And I said, "Based on that decision, we run the next test." Well, he says, "Here's our first piece of advice." He said, "Stop thinking of it as being it's worn or it's not." He said, "It's really shades of grey." And he says, "What I want you to do is measure each tooth on each gear before and after." He said, "You're throwing away a lot of information based on this measurement." And I thought, okay, okay. And I said, how do you do it? Blah, blah, blah. And I went back about a week later based on what he shared with me and we put together a test plan that solved that problem in about two weeks later. And so now I'm all over Taguchi's work, I am all over Taguchi's work, all over Taguchi's work, and it became my next look.
0:11:49.0 AS: What does Taguchi have to do with just measuring versus eyeballing something?
0:11:54.9 BB: Well, that's a good question. I'd say Taguchi's work in that situation was the use of fractional factorial testing, but the issue was that we were treating the data as black and white, which is, in terms of statistics, it is a poor way of doing things, but that's... It wasn't...
0:12:19.0 AS: So either you accept or reject as opposed to measuring?
0:12:22.1 BB: Yeah. And I was... I took an undergraduate class in statistics and I just... It wasn't a field I didn't know that much about. So I just bought into it and he just brought it to my attention, and I said, okay, and it kind of makes sense where he's coming from, but the... So really, the biggest thing that came out of the meeting was not so much... It was driven by you gotta look at this Taguchi guy and it was a combination of running tests using Taguchi's ideas, which would've included using variable data and not... What was it called? Category data. And so that, it was just incredible. This was a problem that was going on with incredible high visibility at the Pentagon, and it got us out of a big jam. And we just couldn't, the answer was right in front of us, but we couldn't see it based on not so much the testing method, the evaluation method. So then that got me in love with Dr. Taguchi's work, so...
0:13:40.4 AS: Let's stop there for a second and think about the listeners for a second, and the viewers. How would you describe the lesson that you learned from that experience?
0:13:56.2 BB: I say a really big lesson is that a simple shift in our thinking, kind of like putting on glasses allowed us to see what we couldn't see that was right in front of us.
0:14:11.7 AS: And it happened by you going outside of the organization also, it sounds like.
0:14:15.7 BB: Oh inside... Oh, the organization. See, I had no reason to challenge the organization. These were the gear people. I'm a heat transfer person, so I don't challenge the gear people. What is that all about? That's why I'm just going along with the guy says, "What do you measure?" I said, again, I was out of my element relative to how organizations operate, out of my element relative to... Now I just looked at that and say, they're the experts. Why would I... I mean, [chuckle] I was just gullible. And I don't think that's uncommon. Where I worked, I found that there were fields in which everyone was an expert. And then there were fields in which... Meaning that if you... Where I worked in Connecticut, if you had some skill with statistics, people would get outta your way and they would just treat you like you walked on water, even though you were full of it. They just bowed to Andrew because you...
0:15:33.2 BB: And so I think it was something like that. I just didn't... And again, I don't think that's uncommon in organizations. But to your point, in fact, back to your point, when I walked away from that very first meeting, and here's what was cool is, it was the two of them, the designer left the room and were in a small conference room. And here I am with two instructors and me, two instructors and one student. I had a ball. And I'm taking notes and I'm writing everything down. And I'm asking this one, asking this one, asking this one, asking this one. And the plan was I would come back in a week, take the ideas, go back, talk to the experts. Well, one of the things we did when we went back is we threw out everything we thought we knew about those experiments because every decision we had made was based on this premise of look and hold a part up to the light.
0:16:27.6 BB: So I said, all this testing is meaningless. So now we've gotta go back to the original list and go forward 'cause typically you'd think, like with Edison, you try this, try this, try this. You don't go backwards. We went backwards based on what you're talking about is that I lost trust in everything we thought we knew. So we went back to the original list, which was... And the original list was what a bunch of recent design changes. So we went back to that list that had been tested, and using a shifting from black and white data to continuum data, we discovered what no one else could see. And it just jumped right out. It was just so damn obvious what was going on, but we couldn't see it. And so that got me intrigued in Taguchi's work. I was then on a mission to learn everything I could. And I then began to see my role in the organization as the facilitator of training that I was doing, and then training in this and helping the organization on applications.
0:17:41.9 BB: And it didn't take long. We were solving some pretty big problems after that. And the VP of engineering liked what was going on. And I went to one day and I said, "I'd like a job," I said, "There's incredible opportunities for us to use this, and I'd like to be the person leading that effort." And he smiled, and... "Andrew, this is the height of TQM, this is 1988. TQM is huge." And he's kinda nodding to me. And sometime thereafter I told him, I said, well what is I brought the Taguchi people in from Detroit to do a big seminar, $30,000. And I'm in charge of bringing them in. I'm in charge of who's coming to this. I remember I went to the HR training guy and I said, "Who do I invite to this training? This is out of my league." And he gave me incredible advice, and I'm sure you've heard before, he said, "It's easier to ask... " He said, "It's easier to apologize than ask permission."
0:18:48.5 BB: He said, "You are in charge of the whole damn thing." He said, "You invite who you think needs to be there." And I was like, whoa, [laughter] And I said, when did he had to tell me that. And I had so many from engineering, so many from operations, so many from procurement, invited the people in, took the course, we were able to as part of the course show what we had done and we were on a roll. And eventually I went to the VP of engineering and I said, "This is what I wanna do." And I even... In a nice way, he and I got along really well and I said, "The job I want, I've shared with you," and I said, "And I really hope it comes to be." I said, "But if it doesn't come to be, it will be because I found that job elsewhere."
0:19:44.0 BB: "So if I come to you and say I'm leaving, this is why."
0:19:50.0 AS: It's for that job.
0:19:50.6 BB: This is why. And then in the very same time frame that I'm out looking, looking, looking, looking, looking 'cause it would... Did not appear to be coming. And then I heard about Deming again and I heard that he was speaking about an hour away from where I worked. And at that point, I had taken an introduction to Taguchi's course, an advanced course where I drove to Detroit and self-funded a week's vacation. I was intense. And I hear about Deming speaking in the area and I thought, "Being a student of quality, I need to go find out what this is all about." So I...
0:20:28.0 AS: And what year is that and what city was it that that was happening in?
0:20:34.8 BB: Dr. Deming was speaking in February of 1990 in Danbury, Connecticut at Western Connecticut State University, and he spoke three times that day. I was there for all three and I have videotapes from the inviter, the professor. He shared with me two of the three videotapes, and one of them, the evening lecture about an hour and a half long I believe is on YouTube. I can get you that information to the link and... But Dr. Deming spoke for about an hour to the faculty, an hour to the students, and what was so cool is I attended with two colleagues from a graduate school who were in transition and I said, "Hey, there's this Deming guy appearing." He was about... He was appearing about midway between where these classmates were. So they drove and got there and I got there and we're driving around campus trying to find where this is. And what's so cool was we found the building, and found this auditorium which was empty, and as soon as we find the room, we turn, and there's Dr. Deming getting out of a limo. [chuckle]
0:21:49.9 BB: And it's about noon time, and he's with his host and all in there, and I guess they went off for lunch. So we're in the room before any... So when we found the room, we see this guy that looks like Dr. Deming. So, okay, this is the right place. So we just kind of made ourselves at home there, kind of sat. Found the place where we wouldn't be sitting kind of in the back, and he came in and started speaking, and he was entertaining. But so much of what he was saying, he was using a language that was nowhere near anything I had learned from Dr. Taguchi, who in my opinion, I was just in love with Taguchi's work. So I'm looking at Deming by comparison, I'm thinking that doesn't fit what I know from Taguchi. That doesn't fit, that doesn't fit, that doesn't fit. [laughter] So he gave pretty much the same presentation to the students and the faculty and then a little bit longer in the evening. And so much of what he said was interesting.
0:23:02.6 BB: And some of it is entertaining, I mean, entertaining in the sense that I could tell it was a joke. I mean, some of his jokes are in the context of his work and I wouldn't laugh at that 'cause I don't understand the context, but others were, so it was interesting. And then a few days later, the two guys who went with me, who lived in my hometown, I went to see them and a third classmate who got his MBA when we were getting Masters in Engineering, he showed up and he knew of Deming and he said, "So what'd you learn?" And the thing that stood out more than anything else, I said, "I don't quite... " [chuckle] I said, "I don't understand the majority of what he said." I said, "But what did stand out... " I told this classmate, I said, "I've never heard anyone speak ill of competition," 'cause Dr. Deming referenced Alfie Kohn's book, the case against competition. I can't remember the... "No Contest", right?
0:24:12.8 BB: And the guy says, "Well, what's wrong with competition?" And I said, "I don't know." I said, "All I know is he distinctly did not like it." And I'd never heard anyone... When I say people, until Deming, I've never heard anyone speak ill of competition. People always say, it brings out the best in people, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, but here's Deming railing against it, and that was what stuck in my mind from Tuesday through Saturday was, he doesn't like competition.
0:24:45.1 AS: And when he was talking about competition, was he talking about competition, setting up competition within your company? Or he doesn't like companies competing with each other?
0:24:54.0 BB: No, and that's a very good point. And he's... And I believe that in Deming community there's some confusion. It was hard for me to distinguish competition within the company from competition between Ford and GM. All I knew is he didn't like it.
0:25:14.4 AS: Yep.
0:25:15.0 BB: And yeah. I mean, fast-forward he's very...
0:25:17.6 AS: In America, that's just a bizarre concept.
0:25:19.9 BB: He's talking about competition... Well, he's talking about competition within the team and he would say, "Naturally, Ford and GM are gonna compete in the marketplace, so they may find opportunities to collaborate." But at that point, what just blew me away was this guy doesn't like competition. That's the only... I mean, he'd mentioned special causes and common causes. That didn't mean anything to me. I never heard those words before. So, I mean, nowadays when I go back and watch it, I can see how... What an incredible set of material he was presenting, but I didn't have anything to hold onto to be able to... I'm looking at what he's doing through a Taguchi lens, looking for the black and white and the shades of gray and some other things. But there's so much of what he was saying didn't come close.
0:26:11.9 BB: But going back to the comment of the colleague... The classmate, he said, what's wrong with the competition? I distinctly remember saying to him, I said, "I don't know." I said, "But maybe because we did okay. And graduating getting master's degree," I said, "Maybe we like competition because we won - that we did okay." And what I was also thinking about when I said that was I had a summer job in college and a factory in my hometown, and in the factory people I went to grade school with, and I was thinking of them. And so when he said,"What's wrong?" I'm thinking, I've got a PhD in mechanical engineering. I didn't drop outta high school and go work on a factory. And that's what I was doing. I'm self-reflecting on, maybe it worked for me, but maybe it didn't work for the others. And that's pretty much... And I believe in that timeframe. I mean, Dr. Deming hands out an article at that time on Profound Knowledge, two or three pages and yeah, okay. There's four elements, but I pretty much put it in the back burner.
0:27:24.0 AS: So what happened next and how did you move on in your Deming journey?
0:27:29.6 BB: Well, that was February of 1989. Later that summer, I took an advanced class in Taguchi methods, and I'm interviewing with Dr. Taguchi's company. I didn't have gray hair. I didn't have any training experience. I didn't quite fit the mold they were looking for. And so I'm trying this, and I'm just trying every opportunity, I want a job in Taguchi methods. And towards the end of the year, I met some people and they gave my resume to RocketDyne where I eventually was hired and now I'm working full-time as a Taguchi expert. You know who is an expert. If I know more than you, that makes me an expert Andrew.
0:28:18.5 AS: One step ahead.
0:28:20.6 BB: But where Deming came back to me was 1993, The New Economics comes out, and occasionally, I go to the bookstore, that's just before Amazon. So I go to the bookstore and I was subscribing to the American Society for Quality. So I was in that community of quality practitioners learning about it. And I literally went to the bookstore... A brick and mortar bookstore, got a copy of The New Economics, and what do I do when I look at it? First thing I do, I go to the index and say, what does this guy think of Dr. Taguchi? [chuckle] And I go to the end and it's Genichi Taguchi. So I go to the page's reference, and what floored me was chapter 10, the very last chapter, the last six pages is all about Dr. Taguchi's work. And I'm thinking, I like this guy, I like this guy.
0:29:27.5 BB: So the vote of confidence in what he is talking, I'm thinking. So I think Taguchi stuff is everything and Deming's liking it too. And when I read The New Economics... So meanwhile, in Connecticut, when I was brought in to solve, help, support issues, once or twice a year, I pretty much stopped my day job, went full-time into this problem solving practitioner facilitator mode, which could take a month or two months. And then I go back to my job. Now in Connecticut, I'm the full-time problem solving guy. This is not a part-time thing. It's a full-time thing. And the exciting thing is I'm working on some very big issues, some of which were a couple months old. One in the spatial domain engine was a year and a half old. And this is exciting, but then I'm starting to realize that there's something wrong with the business model at the organization.
0:30:28.7 BB: And when I looked at Dr. Demings, when The New Economics came out, again, I had spent three years working on major problems in the special domain engine, major problems on space station hardware that RocketDyne was developing, the electric power for. I'm briefing very senior NASA people on problem solved, problem solved, problem solved. But I'm starting to hyperventilate thinking we are kept in business by being able to solve problems. The problems we don't solve, what NASA does is they call you up and they say, "Andrew, we've given you the contract to develop the engine." You're like, "Yep, yep, yep." "And we've given you the contract to produce the engine." "Yep, yep, yep, yep." "But we understand you've got a problem on this component. We're looking to have somebody else make that."
0:31:19.7 BB: And what I saw in front of me was I'm working on a problem that's a year and a half old. There's other problems on the engine. NASA's getting frustrated saying, we're gonna outsource this work to a competitor. And I'm thinking we're gonna lose the engine one component at a time. So I'm working on a big component. And before that problem was solved, a bigger dollar value component was given to a competitor. And I'm thinking one after another. So when I read The New Economics, the first thing that jumped out is, what I'm experiencing is not unique to where I work. What I read into Dr. Deming's work, my interpretation of Deming's work was kind of reinforcing that problem solving is the result of how we see the world, that we're stuck in a rut, because I'm looking and thinking...
0:32:16.7 BB: Again, the good news is I'm kept in. I'm being kept incredibly busy working on some very high visibility problems, going to very senior people at NASA headquarters to present solutions with the president of the company. I'm feeling really good. I mean, relative to having fun, but I'm thinking, but fundamentally how the company is running is not sustainable. And so, I'm looking and thinking, "I'm enjoying this. I'm keeping busy." But we shouldn't have these problems. If we understood what Deming's talking about, my interpretation was we could be preventing these problems, not solving these problems. And I'm not saying all problems, but I'm just thinking that we're behind the eight ball, and I looked at Deming's work as how to get out in front of it, not behind it. And the big part of it was we didn't understand variation.
0:33:15.9 BB: And so what I looked at it was, if you're ignoring variation, then you're... And we'll get into more detail in another session, but what I found was we didn't see the warning signs, the way it was... This goes back to the black and white, and I liken it to things are going well, which is like, your car has gas. Okay, the car has gas. Should I go get gas? No. How do I know we shouldn't get gas, Andrew? Because the car is running.
0:33:48.2 AS: The car has gas. Yeah.
0:33:50.0 BB: And so I'm thinking, "So why are people coming to me with a problem?" Because when the car is running, they don't think they need gas. [chuckle] And now I'm thinking, "If we just had gas gauges, simple devices to monitor and get away from the car has gas or it doesn't, which is the black and white thinking that I grew to, not despise, but just become aware of its limits. And now I'm realizing it, if we looked at things along a continuum, we could be preventing these problems in the first place. And then I'm thinking, "I mean, we've got an incredibly sophisticated engineers and hardware, but we're falling victim to a mindset that says the car has gas, but nobody's asking how much." But so I, from that moment on, reading Deming's book one, it was holy cow, because the riddle I was trying to solve was, why do you come to me when the car runs outta gas?
0:34:54.2 BB: And what it didn't dawn to me was why should they come see me when the car has gas? [laughter] And Deming was... Again, and I'm not saying everybody looks at Deming's ideas the same way. And we both know that's not the case, but what excited me about him at that point was that what I was dealing with was not... The solution wasn't technical. The solution was a shift in mindset. And I then very distinctly began moving from all about Taguchi to all about Deming. And what was interesting is when I started to share that influence with people, really good friends in the Taguchi community, they looked at me, some of them down their nose. Then I've...
0:35:53.3 AS: A traitor to the cause.
0:35:56.5 BB: I'm just like I had discovered a new religion, but they looked at me like, "Deming? Deming?" And I'm thinking to myself, "Well, first of all, I was, I had great... " These were really sharp people in the Taguchi community that I had greatest respect for. And I thought they'd be excited by that. And what I was sensing was kind of a weakness. And I then, from that point on, I went from the solution was Taguchi training and advanced training and blah, blah blah. And then began to think that the reason I can't get in to do these things that I wanted to do with Dr. Taguchi's work, which is focusing on things that are good and making them better. Why am I focus... I'm applying Taguchi's ideas to go from bad to good. And all the training I had is that his ideas go the other way from good to better and better and better. And I'm thinking, "I'm stuck in this rut. And Dr. Deming's giving me great insights as to how to get out of the rut." And you can tell from my excitement it was a game changer for me and a game changer for how what we did in terms of how we were deploying Taguchi's ideas and Deming's ideas where I worked.
0:37:25.0 AS: So if we go back, I mean, let's... Now that's a good breakdown of kind of your history with it. And I'm just curious, if we think about a young person right now who doesn't know much about Deming, how would you describe what they can gain from starting their Deming journey? What would you describe now? I mean, in the beginning you've described kind of simple solutions to simple problems, but there's so much more that you started discovering.
AS: Let's just talk about when I think about young people these days and I look at the management that they're learning in universities, their MBAs and all the things, and I'm looking at the KPIs and things like that, that are going on in this world, I see some strong reasons why people should pay attention to the teachings of Dr. Deming. And I'm just curious, the question I like to ask is, why Deming? Why now?
BB: Yeah. I'd say my approach is to use examples with people of all ages that are new to Deming, right? So you don't have to be right out of college. But I like to look at it as how can I help you understand through questions and examples the degree to which you have the ability to see with new eyes right now, meaning that when I talked earlier about the limits of black and white thinking, versus shades of gray thinking. Shades of gray thinking is looking at a gas gauge and see the gas gauge is going from full to less to less to less. It's time to get gas while I still have gas. Black and white thinking just says I have gas. What about now? I have gas.
AS: Accept, reject.
BB: And it's not to say that black and white thinking is bad, but it's simple versus shades of gray thinking. So what I point out to people is in our personal lives, we use both modes. Throughout the day we're in one cat... We're in one mode or the other not paying attention. And it may well be that the mode we're using is the proper mode to use in that situation. But if we became more aware of those modes, if we had the ability to flip the switch deliberately, 'cause right now what I found is I can ask you a question and get you to go into the black and white mode. You don't know that, and I'll give you another question. And to me, you're jumping between modes, you don't know it. So my strategy, is how people become aware. Why? Because what Dr. Deming's... I'll give you an incredible, a great quote that Russ Ackoff shared in a conversation with Dr. Deming, and Russ says, the...
BB: And for those who don't know, Russ was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business and he passed away about 10 years ago, or so. And he and Dr. Deming were colleagues, very deeply, deep admirers of one another, but 19 years different. Dr. Deming was 19 years older than Russ. And Russ says, "The characteristic way of management we have taught in the western world is to take a complex system, break it in the parts, and manage each part as well as possible." And then he goes on to say, "And if that's done, the system performs well." And I ask people to complete the sentence and they'll say... And actually the sentence I pose it as, "And if that's done," so the character's way of management is to take a complex and then breaking into parts manage the parts as well as possible. And if that's done, okay, how would you answer it? And they'll say, "things go well, things go well."
BB: Well, what Russ says is, "And the system will behave badly and perform well." And then that's absolutely false. And so what I then try to show to people is that what Russ is describing is what we do at work. And then, I gradually point out to them that what he is describing we should be doing is what we do at home. [chuckle] And I try to get 'em to realize that at work they're responsible for machining a whole... Delivering, converting some data from one form to another and passing it on to the next person. But they don't know what the next person does, and I point out at home, whether they're planning a vacation, planning a wedding, buying a home, they're handing off to the next person. And they are the next person, and then they are the next person. And so I try to point out to them the differences between how you would behave if you were the next person. And by comparison, what do we do at work.
BB: And I try to use examples that show the incredible shortcoming of how we treat the next person at work versus how we treat the next person at home, who is me. And so I just give them the same scenario and just say, "So why at home, do we do this and at work we do this?" And then they'll wrap their heads around it. "Because at home I'm dealing with wood and at work, I use metal." And I've had that happen, people will say, "In the garage, I have... I'm working, making a project at wood, and that's why I do that at home. And at work, it's all metal." And I try to point out, "Who designs it at home?" "I do." "Who buys the materials at home?" "I do." Or the elements of whatever it is I'm making and I try to point out, "At home, you are the ones who conceive it, bring together the elements, buying them and putting 'em all together. Then you are the user, but that's not the case at work."
BB: And so what I try to do back to your point is show them how much more advanced our thinking at home is in terms of how we treat the next person, me, versus what we're allowed to do, the next person. Try to point out to them is that, "At home, you, the receiver and you are receiving from you the provider, and at home, the person upstream may not be as generous. Nor will you at work be as generous for the next person downstream. So I try to use examples like that of how... And get into the realm of what does it mean to look at things as a system versus looking at things in isolation. And I find examples like that can grab their attention. But it's not uncommon with these people. I'd be learning about what they do and try to use examples from what they do and point out.
BB: And again, like we were talking earlier, the difference between a shades of gray approach and a black and white approach versus, am I looking at the thing in isolation? So I try to point out those types of things. Now, I mean depending on who it is, I may look at other aspects of Dr. Deming's System of Profound Knowledge, if I think that will get me a toe into the door.
AS: Yep. So let me ask you, in wrapping up, what would you say is the most influential part of Dr. Deming's teaching for your life?
BB: The concept of the System of Profound Knowledge is... That has been a... That has changed my life. That there isn't a day that goes by that I don't look at things through the lens he's describing. The other thing I'll say for people that are new, to the Deming philosophy, and you come across this thing called the System of Profound Knowledge. And Dr. Deming would say, "If you have a better name, please help me." You have to call it something. And then you go to a Deming seminar and you learn there's four elements, and then you learn the psychology piece and this piece. And it's not uncommon, we go to school and we learn things a chunk at a time, a chunk at a time, a chunk at a time. And the challenge is that for people that are new to this, study the pieces in terms of Ackoff, in terms of the system of profound knowledge, if you're looking at variation. Dr. Deming's vast experience in education is all about variation and Shewhart's work.
BB: But if you wanna study psychology, you have to do what Dr. Deming did, was read books on psychology that are not written by Dr. Deming. Read books on systems such as from Russ Ackoff. And so what I find is my strategy was, I mean, the simplicity of the Deming philosophy relative to the System of Profound Knowledge, no one else put together those elements like that. But what I also point out to people is you're gonna have to go beyond Deming's writings to study systems and bring it back to that focus, study psychology and bring it back to there. Now again, depending on who you're reading in, may not fit the psychology Deming's talking about. But I think a big thing is you gotta be able to go beyond The New Economics to go into depth in those areas. And what you'll find is in the beginning, we think of psychology as separate than variation.
BB: And what you'll find is over time, you can't separate, and so that's what I would say is that, I know as you're coming across it and you see it for the first time and you think, "Okay, that's over there, that's over there." But don't be surprised as you continue on your Deming journey that these things come together, and then you realize that that separation is just a teaching device. And that teaching device is in every course we take, we break it in to parts and then at the end of the semester it's a whole. And that's what I would say is, what I find just breathtakingly remarkable is how that system has enabled me to think about things in a way that I would never be able to think about before. And I'm not saying I see everything, but it has enabled me to be in situations where I can turn to colleagues and say, so where do you think we're gonna go based on this decision?
BB: And we can use Dr. Deming's work to get a sense of how that might go off the rails or whatnot. And so if you think of... Dr. Deming would describe his work as a theory of management. And what is a theory? It's a prediction, so I find it's a fascinating crystal ball to look at a situation or a decision being made and start to anticipate what could happen. And I'm thinking, how can that not be invaluable to people?
Yep. Well, Bill, on behalf of everyone at The Deming Institute, I wanna thank you again for coming on the show. And I ask, do you have any parting words for the audience?
BB: I'd say, if you're new to the Deming community, welcome. [laughter] It's never too late to join. And if you're part of the community, I would say don't stop learning.
AS: Fantastic. That concludes another great story from the worldwide Deming community. Remember to go to deming.org to continue your journey. This is your host, Andrew Stotz. And I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Deming, and that is, "People are entitled to joy in work."