The Neuroscience of Deming

By John Hunter, founder of

One of the most talked about presentations at this years annual conference for The W. Edwards Deming Institute was JW Wilson’s: The Neuroscience of Deming. The talk included a great deal of detail on neuroscience which was quite interesting. While some content may have been a bit of a challenge to understand quickly, if you are not familiar with neuroscience, there was lots of great insight into how our brains work.

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Fast thinking and slow thinking has been a popular topic since the publication of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (a Nobel Laurette – in economics) in 2011. System 1 is fast, instinctive and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. As JW Wilson said in his talk:

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Fast thinking is what you use when you are running from the bear, slow thinking is the kind of thinking you use when you want to change the world.

We think we only have time to run from the bear; the consequences are devastating.

[slow thinking is required for] making adaption to unsuccessful attempts. You can’t do that using [the parts of the brain used for fast thinking].

Emotions refine our ability to observe. The only way your brain can pick out what is important to you and how to apply it is by tagging emotions.

JW Wilson pointed to Antonio Demasio’s book, Descartes Error: Emotions, Reason and the Human Brain. That book explains groundbreaking neuroscience research into the importance of emotion in our ability to reason (that he said may eventually earn Demasio a Nobel prize).

He also recommended a great book by Daniel Goldman: Emotional Intelligence. I would imagine most managers interested in applying Deming’s ideas have read this book, Descartes Error, I have a feeling is new to most of us.

The 2013 conference, Out of the Crisis – New Thinking for a Sustainable World [the broken link was removed], will be held October 18-20 at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, USA.

Related: Hallmark Building Supplies: Applying Deming as a Business StrategyTheory of KnowledgeWe Need to Understand Variation to Manage Effectively

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