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09 May 2012


Before we all succumb to confirmation bias and mass Groupthink, what do we believe in retrospect Deming got wrong?

You read articles like these and you have to wonder, are these guys really that stupid? Or do they know how lame their writing is and assume the rest of the world is too stupid to notice.

Sony, in fact, has innovated lots and lots of stuff – CD’s, DVD’s, Blue Ray discs … lots of others – all Sony products and all up in smoke for the same reason Bloackbuster and Borders are gone. Sony innovated products that were in market sectors on their way out. Throw in Sony’s foray into Beta Max and you have to conclude that Sony leadership are the last guys you want to take tips from at the horse track.

They have also conveniently left out the massive Japanese currency manipulation that contributed hugely to Sony and Toyota’s success. Toyota was smart enough (and Reagan put enough heat on the Japanese auto industry) to get out and move their value adding out of Japan before the bottom dropped out. Sony didn’t due to an incrediblly arrogant Japanese nationalistic attitude on Morito’s part. (Read his 'The Japan That Can Say No' to see how bad he was)

The idea that Sony failed because they were too good at manufacturing is so insane as to be beyond serious consideration … except by the Harvard guy, of course.

Sony's former CEO, Howard Stringer, had some rather bizarre views on "synergy." Shortly after his appointment, he argued the need for mutual benefit between his company's electronics and entertainment divisions and said, "A device without content is nothing but scrap metal."

As I wrote at the time: "Following the chain of logic he seems to be developing, we could also argue that a car without fuel is scrap metal...and therefore, auto companies need to own oil companies. Or that computers are useless without software...so all computer manufacturers need to possess large software operations."

"You may reduce defects to zero and go out of business" -- Dr. W. Edwards Deming.

Improving quality (i.e. variation reduction) was one aspect, albeit the only one everyone focuses on, of Deming's philosophy of a System of Profound Knowledge. Most today don't know of the emphasis Deming placed on Consumer Research, and Design & Redesign. I doubt most even know of the iconic flow chart he drew for the Japanese describing a business system (see "The New Economics" or "Out of the Crisis").

Have a look at this conversation I tweeted between Dr. Russell Ackoff & Dr W. Edwards Deming (Video). I found it incredibly insightful: https://twitter.com/#!/shrikale/status/197133218783301633

The folks you called out in your post that are critical of Deming, eager to point out the failure of his approach, are prime examples of those who speak out of their asses. And, there are a lot of them out there. I think Deming referred to them as "hacks" - in its most pejorative sense.

The anti-[whatever idea] (six sigma, lean, Deming...] people often vastly distort what those things are and then attack their creation (straw man argument technique). In my experience the implementation of management ideas often is far far far weaker than the idea itself.

But this anti-thinkers don't seem to criticize the poor implementation (and there is lots of good learning in why we consistently implement management ideas poorly). Instead they take the opposite of the "in Search of Excellence" (or Good to Great)... approach and find a few example of failure and then declare whatever they want to be anti is shown in these examples. I have never found one of these such anti-arguments compelling.

Not employing these philosophies and actions means that you will be bogged down in firefighting and have no time for market research. Employing them means you will free up resources and time that can now be used to look ahead. If you choose not to look ahead, that is another cause. Fuzzy thinking!

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  • Kevin Meyer
    Kevin is a former president of a medical device company and consults and speaks on a variety of lean enterprise topics.
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