Creating the Foundation for a Learning Organization

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

Cliff and Jane Norman (Profound Knowledge Products, Inc.) presented a session at our 2016 annual conference titled: Applying Deming’s Philosophy and Theory to Create the Foundation for a Learning Organization.

YouTube video

Cliff, quoting Brian Joiner in the presentation:

It takes one kind of brains to start something, it takes a different type of brains to sustain it.

I would extend “brains” to mean something like: knowledge, authority and psychology (drive, desire, personality…). The idea that we need to pay attention to different needs of starting a management improvement effort and sustaining it is important. To sustain a management improvement effort needs specific types of people and systems. Acknowledge that the transformation of the organization will require moving through more than 1 phase. To succeed in transforming an organization plan for how to create the right environment and involve the right people to sustain your effort for the long term.

Cliff discussed how Deming’s management system requires leaders to change. So, if they don’t want to change (which is common) the progress toward adopting a management system based on Deming’s ideas can be difficult.


The thing that is the hardest is the unlearning.

Determining what you “know” that just isn’t so and unlearning those “truths” is very difficult for people (see: Countering Confirmation Bias and The Illusion of Knowledge).

Cliff quotes Ackoff on the management system in a university (see a related video with Ackoff discussing this idea for all types of organizaitons):

You might be under the illusion that they are there to educate students but once you actually look at the behaviors and understand the structures [you will see] they are there to make life easy on the faculty.

They both touched on the idea of designing the system to make it easy to the right thing and difficult to do the wrong thing. To create continually improving results from a management system you need to focus on continually improving the processes in that system. Don’t seek to blame, seek to learn from results and continually improve the system.

Related: Cliff Norman and Ron Moen Discuss the History of the PDSA CycleThe Improvement GuideDeming 101: Theory of Knowledge and the PDSA Improvement and Learning CycleTransforming Health Care Leadership

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