The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Current Neuroscience Understanding Related to Psychology and the Theory of Knowledge

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Presentation by Ed Chaplin MD at our 2015 Deming Institute annual conference – It Takes An Enterprise: Current Neuroscience and Knowledge of Psychology

This is really a great talk that does a great job of illustrating the importance of understanding how our brains work (psychology) and how we think (and risks in what we think we know – theory of knowledge) and how it relates to managing our organizations. It is full of connections to many important ideas people need to understand to adopt better management practices in general and Deming based management practices in particular.

He discusses habits and that “95% of the time we operate on auto-pilot.” It is only when something disrupts the flow and we are forced to make a consciously decision that we break from auto pilot mode (habits).

I think the root cause of many of the problems in our organizations are a contradiction between how we do what we do and our beliefs about how we do what we do.

We are still stuck in a 17th century rationalism; but yet all the neurophysiology tells us we’re irrational. We think emotively. Our morality, our ethics are all emotion driven. It occurs before we get to the point of rational [thought].

We learn to see the world through our narratives. Our narratives become our biology.

The point he is making is that what we accept as narratives drive how we see the evidence around us. It is important to remember this in conjunction of what he said earlier that we are not very rational in our thought. And later he discusses how narratives have a similar result as optical illusions in that our brain leaps to incorrect understanding due to how our brains works (the links shows my post on that topic on my Curious Cat Management blog in 2007).

Education is necessary to raise awareness; it is not sufficient to change behavior.


From his description of the presentation:

  1. The conceptual knowledge we need to accomplish what we want to accomplish in our organizations already exists; the barrier is not a knowledge deficit.
  2. The barrier to accessing and incorporating this knowledge into our daily practice is our human biology. The barrier is both individual and social.
  3. We need new common sense theories and knowledge of how we know, learn and act that are consistent with our biology and live in the question “what are the ‘levers’ for both understanding and effective action in a trans-rationalistic world?”; what both philosophers and neuroscientists describe as an enacted world.

Related: The Neuroscience of Deming with JW WilsonTheory of Knowledge: Can We Trust Our Memories?Find the Root Cause Instead of the Person to BlameVisual Management and Mistake-Proofing for Prescription Pills


Categorised as: education, psychology, systems thinking


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