Standardization Doesn’t Stamp Out Creativity

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

I understand that some of the ideas Dr. Deming expressed challenge people’s beliefs and are difficult to accept. I can accept that. Certain exclamations I have more trouble accepting.

One of the things I find annoying, in this way, is that reducing variation and using standardization is said to mean everyone has to be the same, and creativity is stamped out. This is not what Dr. Deming said at all. And the claim makes no sense when you look at how much emphasis he put on joy in work and the importance of using everyone’s creativity. Yet, I hear it over and over, decade after decade.

Standardization does not mean that we all wear the same color and weave of cloth, eat standard sandwiches, or live in standard rooms with standard furnishings. Homes of infinite variety of design are built with a few types of bricks, and with lumber of standard sizes, and with water and heating pipes and fittings of standard dimensions.

On Statistical Techniques in Industry as a National Resource, W. Edwards Deming, paper for the International Statistics Conference in India, 1951.

photo of W. Edwards Deming, touring a plant in the 1950s
W. Edwards Deming, touring a plant in the 1950s

The entire paper with this quote is an interesting read. The ideas from 60 years ago would be of great value to many organizations today. Sadly management practice in our organizations, while having incorporating some new ideas over this time, have yet to adopt many wise ideas detailed long ago.

Standardization (and reducing variation) are means to improve performance. They are not means to dehumanize the workforce. W. Edwards Deming presented a management system that emphasized the importance of joy in work and encouraged the creativity everyone brings to work. Thinking that creating standardized work processes is about making everyone be the same completely misses what Deming proposed.

And thinking that reduced variation in the output of products and service is somehow proposing that we must create only one type of car with no options also misses what reducing variation is about. Reducing variety is not the same thing as reducing variation though many people seem to make this mistake.

Related: Standard Work Instructions are Continually Improved; They are not a Barrier to ImprovementReflections on Standard WorkCreate a System That Lets People Take Pride in Their WorkSome Statistical Logic in the Management of Quality by W. Edward DemingBuild an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation Flourishes

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