The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Leaders Can Make Music


Guest post by Edward Martin Baker.   A version of this post originally appeared on 

An example of a system, well optimized, is a good orchestra. The players are not there to play solos as prima donnas, each one trying to catch the ear of the listener. They are there to support each other. Individually they need not be the best players in the country….An orchestra is judged by listeners, not so much by illustrious players, but by the way they work together. – W. Edwards Deming.

W. Edwards Deming was a moral philosopher, prophet, and sage with profound insights into the management of organizations and the art of leadership and living. He also was a composer of liturgical music, a singer, and musician. He often used analogies such as this one to express his views about the benefits of managing an organization as a whole‑system and not as a collection of separate parts. Appreciation for a system is a key component of his System of Profound Knowledge.

Max DePree, the former Chairman of Herman Miller, Inc., in his book, Leadership Jazz, described the concepts that guided him in his leadership role of orchestrating human expression. The job of a leader is to enable collaboration and the harmony that comes from the quality relationships among unique individuals. Sweet music can emanate from diverse and productive groups of people.

The musician Joshua Redman said, “Music isn’t just the notes that you play. Music is a set of relationships.” Deming applied this principle when he observed that if you listen to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London and an amateur orchestra, there is a difference, even if the amateur orchestra does not make a mistake. Deming’s point was that even if the producer meets specifications it doesn’t guarantee a quality experience for the customer. The professional orchestra and the amateur orchestra each meet specifications, but listen to the difference.


About Aileron

At Aileron, we fervently believe privately held business fuels free enterprise and raises the quality of life for us all. As businesses move beyond the start-up phase, a systematic approach to your business is critical to sustainable and strategic growth. We call this approach Professional Management, and have developed a system to implement it influenced by Dr. W. Edwards Deming and other great thought leaders. Dr. Deming’s timeless teachings have been, and will continue to be, a driving influence because we see his philosophies work.

Aileron is proud to support the illuminating, alternative perspective of Dr. Deming’s teachings and philosophy presented in Ed Baker’s book, The Symphony of Profound Knowledge.

Categorised as: Dr. Deming, psychology, systems thinking

One Comment

  1. […] a previous blog, “Leaders can make music,” I used the analogy of the leader as orchestra conductor who follows a score to orchestrate people […]

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