The Virtual Bookcase Reviews of 'Four Days with Dr. Deming : A Strategy for Modern Methods of Management':
Reviewer Rob Slade wrote:
W.Edwards Deming was a student, and professor, of statistics. Prior to, and
during, the Second World War he worked in statistical sampling methods for
business. In 1950, and following, he advised Japanese engineering and
industrial firms on statistical process control and management cycles. In 1981,
and until his death in 1993, he presented four-day seminars on management and
the pursuit of quality in the production of goods and services. Sponsored by
George Washington University, these seminars, are said to have drawn 20,000
This book is an attempt, not so much to explain Dr. Deming' thinking (six of
his own books are listed in the bibliography), but to give the flavour of the
seminars. To this end, the authors interleaf snippets of Dr. Deming's own
words, their explanations, the cogitations of a "composite" participant, and
the tables and graphics which would be shown as overheads. The result is both
entertaining and readable, but it is very easy to lose track of what is going
This isn't necessarily a bad feature. Judging by the book, Deming was using
examples from statistics to get across other ideas. Much of the material has
nothing to do with statistics. The really common thread that runs through all
of it is that of counter-intuition. Performance appraisals do not enhance
performance; they inhibit it. "Incentive pay" reduces incentive and
motivation. America did not learn anything about management in the post-war
boom, it merely developed superstitions, akin to the "random reinforcement"
experiments of B. F. Skinner in operant conditioning.
Deming's seminars, and the book, should provide good food for thought, but they
don't, in the end, provide answers. A repeated phrase throughout is the call
for "Profound Knowledge". Profound knowledge is broadly based; profound
knowledge is cognizant of all effects. Profound knowledge understands systems
and processes (and all components) deeply. The four aspects of profound
knowledge, as described, recall the four divisions of classical philosophy.
Unfortunately neither Deming nor the authors indicate how to get profound
knowledge, nor even how to define it operationally.
I'm not really surprised. The ancients knew profound knowledge and despaired
of being able to inculcate it in students. They called it "wisdom".
copyright Robert M. Slade, 1995
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