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Ways of learning Deming Philosophy(1999/03)

By Hanching Chung

Around Dec. 18, 1998, while I was busy in preparing the publishing of Chinese translation of The Leader Handbook and the 1998 Deming Memorial Lecture, the local newspaper reminded me the deadline of the retrospective of Jean Dubuffet (1919-1985). I decided to revisit it.

This was a very interesting experience. The exhibition halls were dominated by several groups of school children with their group voluntary guide to explain the theme and some background information of the artist. In my judgement, the Taiwanese are in the stage of mass education of western arts. We still don't know that to appreciate arts, we need to think hard, with some reflection and actions. We think by the explanations and some background information and some imagination, we can understand the arts and the artist.

The characteristics of visual art education maybe quite similar with the ways we introduce Deming Philosophy to Chinese speaking people. It is very likely we are with enthusiasm, but our efforts are like the lip service of the guide of the gallery? It reminds me the one story of Toyota in '80.

At that time, the Toyota Production System( or Just-in-time systems) and Japanese Quality Movements were very popular.. Many foreign people paid the homage to Toyota shop-floors or Gemba. The demand of visiting was so tough, nevertheless the Toyota figured out a smart way of meeting the requirements: Toyota staffs just trained many ladies (employees?) to tell the visitor the minimum information they want to disclose in English. If you want to know more information, you might find out that you were speaking with a stranger from Mars or she was like a robot in blue uniform. Anyway, I think Toyota people know that benchmarking without theories understanding is only one kind of public affairs. The visitors' imagination will take care of many details and it was a very cost-effective way of providing the service.

I am wondering whether the Toyota benchmarking pilgrims made any progress and the gallery-goers learned something significant through the interpreters or the museum guiding records? I think that if we want to visit a museum or a gallery, the best way is to bring pencils to re-present the artwork so that we can understand the purpose and methods of the artist.

By the same token, in order to learn the art of the application of Deming Philosophy, we need to do some homework, that is, to study the new management philosophy or theory with some masters or mentors who are with true understanding of Deming's system of profound knowledge. We also need to learn to apply the plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycles in the daily activities?

Why we need to learn with masters or mentors? One way to explain it is to apply it with Deming's concept of Analytic studies, that is, we need to learn the process in order to know how to improve the subject-matter. For example, to know wonderful Vision / Mission Statements of some great companies without the system thinking is futile. (Mind you, it is very difficult to tell the readers the process of making effective Vision/Mission /Purpose statements, since it may demand particular organizational culture and tacit knowledge. Most statements are results only and without any case Dialogues or stories.)

We should not forget that the best, and perhaps the only, durable way of learning is self-education and with understanding of how to learn. In addition to this, Dr. Deming reminded us that we all need the wisdom and help from outsiders to understand the interactions and system.

I used to tell my friends that after we cross the river, I like to build some bridges to help new-comers or next generations to access Deming Philosophy better. But everyone needs to learn by himself. There is no royal way to understand Deming Philosophy. Any no arts and understanding can be taught. But we may learn it more effectively through cooperative efforts with many world-wide Deming learning communities.

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