The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

To Copy is to Invite Disaster

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Dr. Deming explained the dangers of copying from other organizations: “To copy is to invite disaster.” (page 10 of The New Economics). The proper corse of action depends on the system.

This, like so much of Deming’s advice, relates to understanding the organization as a system. A Deming management view requires thinking about relationships, psychology, capabilities, culture and process when evaluating options. And a Deming organization always validates improvements; most often by using the PDSA cycle.

What these points mean is that the correct course of action at a specific point in time in an organization depend on the existing view of the organization as a system. While eliminating performance appraisals is a good management practice. That doesn’t mean doing it tomorrow in your organization is the wisest course of action.

While eliminating inspection for quality is a good management practice. That doesn’t mean doing it tomorrow in your organization is the wisest course of action. The knowledge that elimination inspection is wise means you need to build your management system and processes so that they perform without this costly way of doing business. But if your processes are incapable today, the proper action is to fix that, not to drop inspections. You have to build to the point where you can drop inspections for quality.

A critical part of transforming an organization to take advantage of Deming’s management system is to understand the culture and psychology that exists today. People will react to statement, changes and proposed practices based on their experiences (both in your organization and in their entire lives).

If your organization hasn’t given people a reason to trust the pure intentions of management they are not going to do so. In such a situation, which is most organizations to varying degrees, the change process needs to be viewed as a long term, incremental process.


How employees interpret management proposals and statement depends on logic and psychology. Fear and blame based cultures predispose people to think blame and take things as blame. Even when the words don’t say that people take it that way.

This is one of the many reasons why the management system is so important. Even the exact same statement is taken very differently by people. In a good management system the statement ‘breach of protocol” can be seen most employees as fine – an indication of yet again seeing a systemic issue and raising it to be dealt with. In a blame based management system it is taken as threatening and maybe even disrespectful.

Peter Drucker Discussing The Work of Juran, Deming and Himself

In this clip Drucker mentions Just-In-Time works well for Toyota but companies trying to copy it find it doesn’t work for them because they are trying to install it on top of a system that doesn’t support it.

Related: Thinking is Required, Management Isn’t Just a Recipe to FollowDeming Management Ideas are Not PrescriptiveStrategy Based on Capability and Integrated with Execution


Categorised as: management systems, psychology, system of profound knowledge, systems thinking


One Comment

  1. Kelly Allan says:

    It seems that to copy is perhaps hard-wired into us humans. We certainly learn by watching others –and then trying the same, such as using a fork, climbing a tree, even driving a car? As a young person, after i had copied some silly and probably dangerous stunt i had seen an older neighbor boy do, my mother asked, “Why did you do it?” Answer, because Dick did it. Next question: “And if Dick jumped off the roof of the house or jumped in front of a car, would you do the same thing?” Answer: Well, no, because i would see that it didn’t work.” In contemplating copying aspects of more challenging and less obvious things, such as how a system works, we as adult thinkers, we need to have a more robust approach –otherwise we will be pushing our organizations right out in front of cars. The good news is that SoPK provides better ways to see what is really going on, and what fits and what doesn’t.

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