The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Change the Situation – Get a Different Result

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David Langford’s presentation at the 2015 Deming in Education conference starts with a clip from Clare Crawford Mason’s PBS presentation on Mt. Edgecumbe High School, in Sitka, Alaska.

Deming was a champion of the individual. He would go into companies and he would just berate management, but he loved the workers…
He would say things like “people have the right to joy in their work.”

So why was Dr. Deming so tough on management (and especially executives)? He believed in their right to joy in work also. But Dr. Deming understood the critical role executives and managers played in creating work environments that destroyed the ability for people to experience joy in work. Dr. Deming felt, and I agree, that those people with great responsibility had to be challenged given the consequences of the current management practices have on so many others.

At the very end of the webcast their is a video of Dr. Deming and he says:

Management must know these things. There is no excuse, well, there is an excuse for ignorance but there is a penalty for ignorance and we all pay it.

He was talking about the ignorance of executives and executives about better management practices. The interviewer asks what we can do and Dr. Deming says

To help, optimize, don’t judge. We need to develop self esteem, dignity, joy and pride in work so that people can innovate and contribute their best to the job. If we destroy them they are humiliated. Ranking them, destroys them.

David Langford:

Change the system – watch how behavior changes. Rather than what we have been taught to do: leave the system alone and manage the behavior it is producing – behavior management systems.

In education, often we blame students for poor data (poor test scores, being late to class…) and then try to force the student to change (manage their behavior). That is also fairly similar to how most organizations manage themselves. What Dr. Deming sought to do is to get us to focus on the organization as a system and when we have results that we think should be better to think about how the system could be changed to improve results.


In the talk David Langford discusses an addition to the system of profound knowledge by adding a 5th competent: brain research (neuroscience). I applaud the idea of building on Deming’s ideas. David is talking about the system within the education context but he also discusses how Dr. Deming was already very interested in brain research and learning from those experts. It certainly is worthwhile to explore ways to extend Deming’s ideas.

David also discusses the power of “trim tab” (how small changes in input can make a large change in result).

You make a small shift in what you do – you get a huge change…
It’s the same thing in education. You change what you do just 1 degree, boy you get huge impact in behavior and performance within that system.

He also identifies the important components of creating a quality learning environment – intrinsic motivation for learning (or any system prioritizing intrinsic motivation).

  • control (autonomy) – for the student
  • cooperative
  • support
  • meaning
  • challenge

Related: Finding Joy In Learning, Applying Deming’s Theory to SchoolsAttributing Fault to the Person Without Considering the SystemThe Schools Our Children Deserve by Alfie KohnDeming Inspired Innovation in Education


Categorised as: education, psychology, video


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