2011 ASA Deming Lecture by Roger Hoerl – Need Any Country be Poor?

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By John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog.

YouTube video

2011 ASA Deming Lecture (edit: ASA broke the link, so it was removed) by Roger Hoerl, GE Global Research: The World Is Calling; Should We Answer?

Roger starts by discussing some areas of Deming’s work that are not getting the focus they deserve.

I’d like to focus on a few areas of Dr. Deming’s career that perhaps are under appreciated, not talked about as much as some other areas.

One was his concern for the impact of statistics on society. Those of you who have looked at the so called Deming chain reaction have seen that it doesn’t end with money, but it ends with jobs and more jobs – that is impact on society.

I also want to talk about Deming’s emphasis on the big picture, the big problems. For those of you that have read Out of the Crisis, Deming asks in that book: Need any country be poor? And that was a sincere concern of his.

The third under appreciated area is the call for statistical leadership. Deming referred several times to the need to have a senior statistical leader reporting to the CEO. Now he didn’t necessarily clarify exactly what that person was supposed to do but it was very clear in Deming’s mind, and he said it very often, that statisticians needed to view themselves as leaders and function as leaders in society.

I started this blog with a blog post that had a very similar focus on the central importance of providing a better life for everyone in W. Edwards Deming’s vision for the result of adopting the ideas he promoted.

His talk focuses on the big picture and what are the ways we can make the biggest difference in improving people’s lives globally. In looking at how to tackle that the idea what matters is not what is the biggest problem to address but what are the solutions that have the biggest potential is discussed (Roger played a video by Bjorn Lomborg making this point). This also applies to whatever improvements we want to make (on a small or large or enormous scale).

Thinking about the biggest issues may be helpful but what then you need to access what the various options are to move forward and sometimes the biggest problems don’t have great options for addressing them directly right away. In that case we should address improvements that will achieve results and also that can build our capability to address important areas in the future.

Roger explores his work on the HIV/AIDS problem and how it relates to applying statistical and systemic thinking to improve people’s lives. He also illustrated the importance of going to the gemba and relying on those closest to the issue instead of remote experts.

Roger and Persia Neidermeyer wrote a book on the effort – Use What You Have: Resolving the HIV/AIDS Pandemic.

Maybe free markets, maybe capitalism, maybe the opportunity to earn a living through business, maybe that is part of the solution. Not the whole solution but maybe that is part of it.

I agree strongly with this sentiment and as I described in the first post on this blog I think the idea that capitalism can help provide better lives to people was a big part of Dr. Deming’s vision. There are many ways we need to fix our current economic system. But what is needed is to use the potential of capitalism to provide great benefits to everyone instead of allowing capitalism to be subverted to benefit a few.

Dr. Deming appreciated the potential for economic prosperity to improve everyone’s lives. W. Edwards Deming’s personal aim was to advance commerce, prosperity and peace.

I think Roger’s theme of focusing on making substantial improvement in people’s lives by applying the ideas Dr. Deming promoted would give Dr. Deming great satisfaction that his work was being continued in the way he hoped it would. Those of us interested in promoting W. Edwards Deming work should measure the success of what we are doing by the improvement in people’s lives.

Roger also discusses the idea of statistical engineering and the difference between engineering and science. And he discusses six sigma (which certainly has issues) but as I have written before if you want to learn what value six sigma offers listen to what Roger (and others such as Ron Snee, Gerry Hahn…) say. For those interested in improving the management of our organizations (hopefully that matches the readership of this blog) there is value in reading their views on six sigma.

Related: A Historical Look at Deming’s Career: Lecture by J. Stuart HunterBooks and articles by Roger HoerlThe Importance of Management ImprovementWilliam G. Hunter: an Innovator and Catalyst for Quality Improvement

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