August 09, 2016
Vincent Barabba delivers the Deming Lecture on August 2, 2016
“Profound Knowledge from a Knowledge Use Perspective”
Joint Statistical Meeting
Vincent P. Barabba
My first contact with the “Thinking” of Dr. Deming occurred when I was at the Census Bureau. As I’m sure most of you are aware the taking of the Census is an incredibly complex activity; from the making of the maps, developing the mailing lists, creating the Census form, the collection itself, and the publication of results. The Bureau had traditionally built a back-up system in anticipation that in each step of the process something could go wrong. As the person who would likely be held accountable if something did go wrong, I had generally supported this position. Then one day in a discussion on the subject one of our senior members commented that if Deming was still with us, he would describe the Bureau’s approach of ensuring quality by developing elaborate back-up systems with his very compelling metaphor, “You burn the toast and I’ll scrape it.” In essence you end up with a piece of toast that everybody accepts, but you really have acknowledged that a problem is likely and you have built a process to make it tolerable – exactly what Deming had argued against.
Dr. Deming and I had a more personal, and for me more memorable, brief meeting during the taking of the 1980 Census. I gave a presentation on our progress and he came up and very nicely said, “You are doing a good job, keep it up.” The last time we met was at General Motors in the nineties when he was advising us on improving the quality of our products and services.
However, it wasn’t until I gained a better understanding of his concept of Profound Knowledge by reading his works, combined with what I learned during consulting engagements and evolving friendships with Russ Ackoff and Peter Drucker that I came to more fully understand and appreciate the value of his thinking. What I appreciated most was the fact that he railed against decision makers and those providing them information, who blindly asserted opinion as fact, out of convenience or ignorance. Instead, he challenged all involved to test their opinions, theories, hypotheses, hunches and beliefs against reality to truly understand what is going on and learn what is necessary to improve the situation.
here is the link to the video of the Deming Lecture…it is the 3rd one down on the list of presentations: