Four Days with Dr. Deming

W. Edwards Deming is remembered for many things; one of those touchstones was the Deming Four Day seminar. Those 4-day seminars changed the lives of many people. And many of those people went on to change their organizations and the lives of those working there.

Scott M. Paton wrote a short article on his experience, Four Days with W. Edwards Deming, while at GM.

At precisely 8:45 a.m. Deming began his lecture with a question. “Is it sufficient to have happy customers?” he asked in his characteristically deep, gravelly voice. “The customer never invented anything. The customer generates nothing. He takes what he gets.”

After the working group presentations, Deming began his lecture on the subject of theory. “If you don’t have a theory, you don’t have an experience,” he announced. “Without theory there is no observation; there is no experience.

He also talked about the role of the supervisor in an organization. He explained that a supervisor has two responsibilities: to assist those who need special help and to improve the system.

image of the cover of 4 Days with Dr. Deming

Make sure you read the rest of his article on The W. Edwards Deming Institute web site.

There is an excellent book presenting Deming’s ideas in the style of a seminar: Four Days with Dr. Deming: A Strategy for Modern Methods of Management.

Those who have attended Dr. Deming’s seminars in the past will find the book to be a refresher of what they experienced. It may even clarify a point that was obscure at the time of the seminar.

For those who have never attended Dr. DemingIs seminar, this book gives the flavor of such an experience. To make people feel the forces at work during the seminar, we use three voices – first is Dr. Deming, who usually introduces the topic. Where we feel that we can contribute to understanding, the authors act as the second voice. An imaginary seminar participant is voice number three.

Another way to more directly get a feel for the experience of a Deming 4-day seminar is with the Four-Day Seminar DVD Collection provides its viewers with a comprehensive exploration of the seminal theories and teachings of Dr. Deming in a corporate setting. It is comprised of twelve hours of Dr. Deming’s lectures and demonstrations given to an audience of more than five hundred managers at General Motors in 1992.

Do you have memories of attending a seminar? Please share your thoughts as comments on this post.

Related: Lessons From the Red Bead Experiment with Dr. DemingDeming 101 with Ian BradburyDeming Library Video with Dr. Deming Discussing the 14 Points

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6 Responses

  1. Kelly Allan says:

    Interestingly, when we developed the 2.5-day seminar as a part of the Deming Institute’s efforts to make it possible for more people to attend, we relied heavily on Deming’s approach. Over the past decade as we’ve continued to evolve the seminar, we’ve often gone back to Four Days with Dr. Deming to capture the immediacy of the experience. Every time I engage with the material I see even more of Deming’s genius. The clarity and simplicity is stunning and powerful.

  2. Joyce Orsini says:

    I am reminded that so many people went to the Deming seminars over and over again, and learned something new every time. It seems that what was learned in the first seminar became incorporated in the knowledge base of the individual. So, when he went to the next seminar he was now at a higher level in his understanding, and he picked up on things that he wasn’t able to see the time before.

  3. Bill Waddell says:

    No doubt Deming was a brilliant, forward thinking guy. The challenge, I have found, is that he was purely a theorist and how to apply his theories to reality is the challenge. Few companies get it right. It is far too easy to water it down, selectively apply his ideas, do what is easy and ignore the knottier things he had to say. Just the same, relentless pursuit of Deming’s theories – continually trying to understand them and come up with practical applications that don’t lose the meaning – is a path to very good results.

  4. I still remember my first 4-day seminar in Irvine, California. I believed many of my grandfather’s ideas made sense, but was very much challenged by others. I showed up with a number of questions and was prepared to discuss how they did not apply in my situation. Fortunately, I kept quiet and by the end of the second day I felt like I had been hit with a lightening bolt. My life was never the same after those 4 days. When people ask me what struck me the most, I always think back to “Variation”. I had treated so many “common causes” as special causes and so many “special causes” as common ones in my short management career. It really shook me up.
    The other thing that never ceases to amaze me is how much I continue to learn with each 2.5 day seminar I attend or every time I listen to the videos or read my grandfathers books; especially The New Economics and The Essential Deming.

  5. Bill Bellows says:

    I met Dr. Deming for the first time during his visit to Western Connecticut State University in Danbury in February 1990. In his three lectures, first to students, then to business school faculty, then to the general public, he used notes and viewgraphs to convey his “System of Profound Knowledge,” all the while commenting “if you have a better name, please help me.”

    Fast forward to December 7-10, 1993, the dates of his last 4-Day seminar, held at the Hilton Hotel in Universal City (Los Angeles), with some 500+ in attendance, including a rabbi, who sat to my right. A few days before, the LA Times published a lengthy article about Dr. Deming, written by Carla Lazzareschi, which can be found online at Several months earlier, his notes and viewgraphs were published as The New Economics.

    While confined to a wheel chair, complete with an oxygen supply, Dr. Deming read from The New Economics and shared anecdotes for several hours at a time. Once tired, his nurse would take him off stage for an hour or so, while his three assistants, Heero Hacquebord, Harry Artinian, and Harold Haller, took turns in clarifying his remarks.

    Meanwhile, the rabbi to my right prayed for Dr. Deming throughout the seminar. After several days of quiet prayer, he took the opportunity to chastize the seminar host, Nancy Mann, president of Quality Enhancement Seminars (QES), for having Dr. Deming labor as he did, all the while in failing health. I can still hear her very polite reply. “You do not understand,” she disclosed, “this is where he wants to be.”

    Whereas I was ill-prepared to appreciate the concept of the “lens of Profound Knowledge” in 1990, I was far better prepared in 1993 and am grateful for the opportunity to have “learned at the feet of a master” and his esteemed assistants. Looking back, my only regret is that it was the first 4-Day seminar I ever attended with Dr. Deming. Thankfully, videos from the Deming Institute exist to relive the experience of this seminar and the book by Bill Latzko and David Saunders captures the essence of this experience.

  1. March 12, 2015

    […] (1992) This option provides access to 12 hours of Dr. Deming’s lectures and demonstrations from Dr. Deming teaching his famous 4 day seminar. The video is from Dr. Deming’s presentation to an audience of more than 500 managers at […]

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