The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

A Bad System Will Beat a Good Person Every Time

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image with text: "A bad system will beat a good person every time" W. Edwards Deming

Quote by W. Edwards Deming at a February 1993 Deming Four Day seminar in Phoenix, Arizona (via the notes of Mike Stoecklein).

So what was Dr. Deming trying to convey with this quote? It wasn’t an attempt to get people to give up trying because failure was certain. It was a attempt to get people to understand the importance of the system and the futility of trying to focus on blaming people for failures.

As Deming said we are being destroyed by best efforts. Trying harder, to do what you understand as your job, when the system is broken often results in more damage. Don’t just do something, stand there (and think).

So if a bad system will be beat a good person every time what can you do? You have to focus not on trying harder within the current system but on changing the system so that success is built into the system. Relying on heroic measures is a poor way to manage.

Related: The System Will Produce What It’s Capable of Producing94% Belongs to the SystemWe are being ruined by people putting forth their best effortsEffort Without the Right Knowledge and Strategy is Often Wasted


Dr. Deming provided some great quotes that Twitter (follow us on Twitter @DemingInstitute) and such services have given increased attention to. Some are fairly easy to source in his books or articles. Many more come from his videos and seminars and consulting engagements.

For those from his speaking engagements that also means there are often numerous versions of the quote. Certainly Dr. Deming stated certain ideas a bit differently over the course of hundreds of seminars. Also people can write them down slightly differently and remember them slightly differently over the years.

We have a collection of sourced quotes by W. Edwards Deming and also those quotes that haven’t been sourced yet, but are likely something he said.


Categorised as: Dr. Deming, system of profound knowledge, systems thinking


4 Comments

  1. “Is dead wood really dead, or are those so labelled just in the wrong jobs, in the wrong teams, in circumstance where they’ve been all but forced to disengage, where they have learned to be helpless?…”

  2. vasishta bhargava says:

    A bad system will beat a good person every time is more of relevance or true only “when the good person operates within a bad system” However, if a good person works together/operates with other good person/s, it eventually will beat the bad system

  3. John Hunter says:

    Yes, as I said above: “So if a bad system will be beat a good person every time what can you do? You have to focus not on trying harder within the current system but on changing the system so that success is built into the system.”

    You may also be interested in posts I have written on expanding your ability to change the system and how to get your organization to adopt better management practices.

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