Manage the System to Score a Whole in One: A Golf Lesson

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

In a previous blog, “Leaders can make music,” I used the analogy of the leader as orchestra conductor who follows a score to orchestrate people playing together. The score to which I referred was Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge. Another analogy, more familiar to business leaders, is golf.  Managing one’s own golf play, although an individual game, has similarities to managing people in enterprise. The golfer must manage the system, i.e., the interactions in the system in order to produce a harmonious relationship between the components, e.g., the clubs, the swing, the course, the golfer’s knowledge and mental state. Everything must come together to produce the intended outcome. When that occurs, the golfer has scored and orchestrated a whole in one.

A “whole” is defined as a healthy, coherent system or organization of parts fitting or working together as one. My friend, Tom O’Connell, a PGA Golf Professional Scottsdale, Arizona, put it this way:

Every golfer has a model, a picture in mind that represents the proper swinging motion. Some models can produce excellent performance, others will produce poor performance. The model must be clear, complete, and in a harmonious relationship with the individual. The golfer should practice and play in an environment that is completely safe and free of intimidation.

When the swinging motion is a unified whole, everything is just right, in sync, together. There are no separate parts, no shoulders, arms, hands, hips, legs, or feet. They all interact as one to accomplish the purpose of the activity — to send the ball to the target. The hands don’t try to dominate the feet. The arm swing doesn’t dominate the body rotation. The eyes don’t look wherever they please. It is as if the body as a whole knows what to do to optimize performance of the whole. The interaction of the club with the ball and the consequent speed and direction of the ball is pure physics, but golf is not only a physical-mechanical process of applying force to the ball. It is an inseparable interaction between the physical, physiological, and psychological qualities of the individual and the system.

The aim of the golfer is not to achieve a hole-in-one each time. That is not realistic because the system produces variation in outcomes over time. Good scores will follow as a consequence of consistently following a good model.  Consistency results from a stable process and is the basis to learn and improve. If one focuses on the score rather than the process, then he or she will tend to react to the result of each shot as if that result was due to the takeaway, weight transfer, swing path, planeclub face angle, etc. This can cause the golfer to overcompensate, reducing accuracy and consistency.  Golfers need to guard against overdoing any one part of their swing. If the golfer does not manage his or her system as a whole, performance will be poor, and the individual will be frustrated and angry. This, in turn, likely will cause the person to try to overcompensate even more, which will further degrade performance. To focus on the parts without regard to the whole is to ignore the harmony that produces exceptional results. The quality of the relationships between the parts makes the difference in the quality of overall performance.


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.

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