Transformation Paradox

This guest post is an excerpt from Ed Baker’s book (pages 31-32), The Symphony of Profound Knowledge, which was created in partnership with

Managers in business, school administrators, and teachers may believe that they have to grade, rate, and rank, to manage by numbers and use other traditional methods because these are necessary to do their job. They may think that they must perpetuate these practices because it is the way it has always been done. They may not be able to envision another way. Therefore, to begin a study of Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge requires both a leap of faith that it will have value and curiosity about it. This is a paradox of transformation. The individual starts out on a journey of transformation before even having the map for that journey. Studying the map and integrating it into thinking and acting is the journey.

Another aspect of the paradox is that senior executives and business owners who have the power to transform the management system most likely are in their current positions because of their success applying that system. It may be difficult for some of them to understand that there is any reason that they have to change the system or their methods of managing. After a presentation to senior management of a large company, I was asked why they should believe me, and therefore why believe Deming. They said that the previous week a consultant told them that managing the organization as separate parts, silos, chimneys, as they were now doing, is the right way to manage. In fact, everything he told them supported present practice and therefore contradicted Deming’s ideas. Why should they believe me? That is a legitimate question. Why should they? Why should anyone be willing to entertain new possibilities, be willing to learn?

The answer may be prompted with a question: Do you want to continue to face day-to-day problems that are costly in time and resources, or do you want to face the process of change that will eventually dissolve many of the organization’s problems and your own problems? Management—anyone—may not know they have a choice of whether to continue to face the continual supply of everyday problems or face the challenge of changing thinking to dissolve the source of problems before they occur rather than solve them after they occur. Deming’s way of thinking about a system can help management understand how an organization can create many of its own problems and do a better job of preventing them from occurring. Jim (Mac) McIngvale, the owner of Gallery Furniture in Houston, Texas, accepted the challenge to dissolve the source of his problems and eventually quadrupled his sales volume. He made the change based not on numbers but on a leap of faith that Deming’s teaching would help him to put an end to the wasted time and fatigue produced by the problems he continually was facing. This is discussed in chapter 12.

It is not likely to be productive to tell someone directly that they have to change their assumptions, that things will be better if they think and act differently. We human beings tend to become defensive when told that we have to change. We may think we are being told that something is wrong with us; or we may be very comfortable with the ways things are. Deming never told people that they had to accept his ideas. Deming often said that profound knowledge comes by invitation. He mirrored the insight of Plato, “Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind,” also expressed as, “The teacher can’t teach if the student is not ready to learn.” A characteristic of a leader is the will and discipline to learn, to take the time to study, practice, and learn from the experience. This learning includes learning about oneself. Leadership requires self-knowledge.


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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