The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

The Influence of C. I. Lewis on Walter Shewhart and W. Edwards Deming

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W. Edwards Deming had a large and varied collection of influences. One of the most difficult for people to grasp is C.I. Lewis. The ideas Dr. Deming drew from the work of C.I. Lewis provide one of the ways his ideas on management are different from others. But trying to read the original work of CI Lewis is not easy, you can try yourself with his book: Mind and the World Order.

The article I quote from below provides a path to appreciating the ideas Dr. Deming and Dr. Shewhart were able to apply in their thinking from C.I. Lewis: Influence of C.I. Lewis on Shewhart and Deming by G. T. Peterson

Put simply, the fact that a particular measurement system produces some numbers does not mean that we are generating values that meet the philosophical criteria of truth or certainty.

The logical extension of this is that in order to understand data / information we must have an operational definition of the context in which they were obtained, that includes the following;

    Method / Technique / Equipment, How is data arrived at? 100% checking vs. sampling?

    Agreed Standards In the physical sciences there are clear definitions, such as “metre”, an agreed International Standard; however, in the behavioural sciences this is not so clear, for example, how to achieve an operational definition of “unemployment”?

    Accuracy, What reliance can we put on the data?

    Variation there will always be, in output, in service, in product; what is the variation trying to tell us – about the activity – about the people who work in it?

Lewis argues strongly that knowledge, can only be valid, if we are able to express clearly the grounds on which it is based.

book cover for Mind and the World Order

Is it necessary to understand Mind and the World Order in order to apply Deming’s ideas on management? No, it isn’t and I would go so far as to say a tiny percentage of those using (or even those consultants helping others use) Deming’s ideas do. But Dr. Deming found the ideas useful. And getting deeper appreciation of the underlying principle behind the System of Profound Knowledge is useful for those interested in getting the most from Deming’s work.

Our analysis of the influence of C.I. Lewis on Deming and Shewhart suggests that it helped them to structure their thinking and to develop an understanding of human knowledge and human organisations, based on a sound, pragmatic philosophy. This contrasts with most current Western management thinking which is based vaguely on agency theory, contract theory, shareholder value maximisation and transaction cost theory.

Their understanding is soundly philosophically based and is pragmatic – it works and it works to everyone’s advantage. This helps in developing a sound case which can explain to leaders and managers the advantages of this understanding as a basis for action.

The article does a good job of explaining C.I Lewis’ influence on Deming’s ideas in a way that doesn’t require understanding the complexity of Lewis’ ideas.


Should the content of this post be the first step you take on the path to applying Deming’s ideas? No. If you are 10 or 20 years into a journey applying Deming’s ideas and continuing to learn along your way, then pursuing these ideas more deeply may be useful. The article provides a nice way to gain a bit of an appreciation, enough so you know more is available to learn if you are interested.

The ideas in Mind and the World Order are really only going to interest a small percentage even of those who have deeply applied Deming’s ideas, it appeals to a certain mindset (which included Deming himself) but most people are not going to follow this path. Using the tools and concepts that have been created by those (such as Shewhart and Deming) that did put in the work to understand C.I. Lewis will be where most people want to draw the line.

In the blog I strive to provide a wide variety of material. I don’t aim to have all of the content valuable to all of our readers. I believe by accepting some content won’t be appreciated by parts of our readership it allows us to provide content that is difficult to find because it is of interest to a small number of people. And by allowing ourselves the freedom to provide content that is valuable to different segments of the audience we can provide a higher overall value to all our readers.

We can provide a higher signal on average by providing content that is highly valued by the different segments of our audience while realizing in doing so we create noise for other segments. Instead of increasing the signal to noise ratio by limiting noise I aim to increase the signal for segments of our readers while accepting that it also increases noise for many of the other readers.

Limiting content to content that everyone appreciates inevitably prevents us from providing some content that matches the signal some users desire at a very high level but is not of interest to many people. The decision is made easy by the simplicity of ignoring the noise from the blog you don’t want to spend time reading.

I hope this though process is providing you a blog you enjoy reading and find useful.

Related: Enumerative and Analytic StudiesThe Development of Deming’s Management SystemA New Synthesis from a Transcending Perspective to Personal Improvement


Categorised as: theory of knowledge


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