The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Profound Knowledge from a Knowledge Use Perspective

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Guest post by John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog.

Vincent Barabba presented the 2016 ASA Deming Lecture: Profound Knowledge from a Knowledge Use Perspective.

Vincent Barabba led the US Census Bureau, founded Market Insight Corporation and authored The Decision Loom: A design or interactive decision-making in organizations (among other books).

It wasn’t until I gained a better understanding of his [Deming’s] concept of profound knowledge by reading his works, combined with what I learned during consulting engagements with Peter Drucker and Russ Ackoff that I came to more fully understand and appreciate the value of his thinking.

What I appreciated most was the fact that he railed against decision-makers and those providing them information who blindly asserted opinion as fact out of convenience or ignorance. Instead, he challenged all involved to test their opinions, theories, hypotheses, hunches, beliefs against reality to truly understand what is going on and learn what is necessary to improve the situation.

The idea of testing opinions and beliefs is key to Deming’s management system (as it is to the scientific method).

Vincent’s talk drives home the importance of focusing on what you learn and how to apply what you learn. In my experience people don’t spend nearly enough time thinking. And directing that thought at experiments, what the experiment results mean and how we can apply what we have learned to our organization are great areas in which to focus our thinking on.

Vincent’s description of “sense and response” organization structures that are designed for everyone to respond to unpredictably conditions. Instead of rigid decision making done at headquarters and driven down through the organization these organization take advantage of everyone’s brains and let them decide how to react.

He also points out the value of not becoming too locked into one model of thinking. At times different models are useful and shouldn’t be rejected out of hand.

Vincent includes valuable ideas from Russ Ackoff on an organizational decision making process (including the importance of learning from decisions over the long term).


Related: Effective Decision MakingOptimize the Overall System Not the Individual Components

We have now added blog posts on nearly all ASA Deming lecture from 2009 through 2017, the others are:

2009, J. Stuart Hunter (Princeton University), New Challenges for Statisticians
2010, Sir William Osler: Dr. Deming Consults on Quality
2011, Roger Hoerl: Need Any Country be Poor?
2012, Dr. Jeff Wu: Quality Improvement from Autos to Nanotechnology
2013, Vijay Nair: Industrial Statistics – Research vs Practice
2014, Sharon Lohr: Red Beads and Profound Knowledge: Deming and Quality of Education
2015, William Meeker: Reliability – Another Dimension of Quality
2017, Fritz Scheuren: W. Edwards Deming – A Kaizen Statistician


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