Profound Knowledge and Baldrige Excellence:
Lessons from a 1991 Deming Four-Day Seminar
During a recent spring cleaning, I came across some notes (uploaded in PDF
format at http://gpsinc.us/deming) from a four-day seminar taught by Dr. W.
Edwards Deming that I attended in Cincinnati, OH, in May 1991. This was one of
his last public seminars; at the time he was 90 years old, and I am thankful that I
had a chance to learn from him in person. As I leafed through the notes, I realized
that even after 20 years, Deming's ideas continue to profoundly influence my life
and work. Deming was not a "guru" per se, but someone of extraordinary
capability who was both angry and compassionate over the mess we had gotten
ourselves into due to ignorance, fear, and short-term thinking.
This newsletter will not attempt to distill Deming's work; there are plenty of other
sources for that (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Edwards_Deming). Rather, we
will highlight several of his key teachings that are directly applicable to our ability to
achieve success with the Baldrige Criteria.
1. "The prison, the prevailing system of management, has been
created by best efforts, not guided by knowledge."
Sadly, Deming's prison remains the norm around the world. The Baldrige
challenge is to truly shake up the organizational paralysis around the concept of
knowledge and create true learning, grounded in theory. Easy? No! Just essential
2. "No amount of effort and success on short-term problems
accomplishes long term success."
Baldrige is the best model we have found for helping organizations define and
achieve their long-term purpose, vision, and values, but we must be incessantly on
guard for short-term thinking in how we collect and analyze data. Much of the most
important information is unknown and unknowable.
3. "The theory for transformation has been applied only on the
shop floor... this is important, but is only a small part of the total.
Far bigger gains will come from action on prevailing practices of
How many of our clients are still mired in "shop floor transformation"? Nobody says
transforming the prevailing practices of managers who have achieved success in
the existing system will be easy, but at least be honest and recognize that
management systems do not have the capacity to spontaneously transform
4. "Management by results is not the way to get good results."
Results tell you what happened in the past. Fannie Mae was one of the "Good to
Great" examples. There is some value in analyzing the past guided by knowledge
and theory, but the only way to achieve results in the future is to have a system in
place that is aligned with the requirements of the future.
5. "Anybody can make any figure come true if his career
depends on it. One can restate the aim, use new definitions,
alter figures by creative accounting."
A timeless observation. Our commitment must be to keep a constant aim, use
consistent definitions, and not alter figures. This reminds us of something Peter
Senge once said: the most powerful strategy of all is a commitment to the truth.
6. "Any group should have as its aim optimization over time of
the larger system that the group operates in."
This is why we sometimes prefer working with clients who are not pursuing an
award. The Baldrige assessment process identifies opportunities for improvement
based on what is in the application. The problem is that the biggest opportunities
are often based on information that is NOT in the application.
We could go on and on, but the process of discovery is an individual one. We are
one third of the way through 2009. How are we doing?
Would W. Edwards Deming have been happy at last week's Quest for Excellence
conference? I would like to think yes. It was inspiring to experience the stories of
transformation in a number of remarkable organizations. Elements of profound
knowledge were evident throughout the three days. But the larger question looms:
are we doing enough?