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Deming Philosophy and Holmes (1998/10)
(Notes on The Leader’s Handbook, part II. ) by Hanching Chung

It is interesting to see article in Quality Progress to apply Deming 14 Points to legal office. But I think it may be worthwhile to invite Deming community and legal professional to discuss about the Deming Philosophy and the great Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935). Many fruitful directions are potential.

One important reason to think about both sages is that in W. A. Shewhart legacy that the origins of quality standards come from laws and traditions. The operational meaning in many versions of contracts, including many quality requirements in the suppliers/subcontracting is also a very fruitful area to study. It is may be a contract without operational definitions or with it but not relevant.

Peter Scholtes in his The Leader Handbook using one attributed Holmes statement as a major theme of Deming Philosophy( p.46 and later Chapters.) He ponders on it: “ I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity”. Peter said “ Justice Holmes, perhaps, was articulating the need for profound knowledge. I found high frequent using “profound” in article introducing Holmes in Encyclopedia Britannica .

The approach adopted by Mr. Scholtes is double –edge knife since it provide some inspirations but unfortunately without operational definition like Deming on

Leadership in The New Economics.. But it may be interesting to do a study on both sages’ philosophy. I think the trouble of Peter’s quote is that the imagination of the readers may take advantage of the ambiguity of the word. But on the other hand, this quote reminds us that we are dealing with the so-called organized or purposeful complexity, not the fashionable mathematical complexity. Theory.( It is interesting to think about the logic-mathematical traditions Holmes and “we” might against with.)

I didn’t go to the origin works of Holmes but some interesting comparisons can be made based upon some of his famous phrases.

“ The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” We can also talk about the Pragmatism between both sages.

Holmes addressed to law professionals that their responsibility is to understand the relationship between specific cases and the whole structure(this is I retranslate it from Chinese translation, I’ll check it later the original one.)

The other interesting view worth comparison is the central role of prediction in Law and Management. It is interesting to note Holmes’ word that “ But certainty generally is an illusion, and repose is not the destiny of man”(The music of the laws by Daniel Kornstein, p.124). .

Both sages’ view on the purpose and consistency (or learning) of social systems is another area we can think about.: “ The truth is, that the law is always approaching, and never reaching, consistency… It will become entirely consistent only when it ceases to grow.” (op. cit., p. 124). Both sages agree that the innovation and imagination is the stage zero of the system.

Dr. Deming once thought about to include reliability studies as one element of his system of profound knowledge. While Holmes wrote a subtle poem about human reliability called The Deacon’s Masterpiece which was used and commented gracefully in Lewis Thomas’s The Medusa and the Snail. Thomas’ comments was great : What a way to go!



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