Work and Love

31 min read

After World War II, Japan was in ruins and its industrial base almost entirely destroyed.  “Made in Japan” became synonymous with primitive production of cheap consumer goods.  W. Edwards Deming, an American expert in the field of statistical quality control of manufacturing processes, was invited in 1950 by the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers to lecture on his methods and techniques.  His lectures and workshops revolutionized Japanese business culture over the next decade, leading to a renaissance of Japanese industry and the development of their worldwide reputation for high quality products.  Emperor Hirohito awarded Deming the “Order of the Sacred Treasure” in 1960, in appreciation of his contribution to the rebirth of Japanese industry.  The “Deming Prize” established by the Japanese to honor him, continues to exert enormous influence in Japan and throughout the global business world.

Deming claimed that a sustainable improvement in quality required that “the prevailing style of management must undergo transformation”.  He offered instead what he referred to as “a system of profound knowledge”.  Where prior theorists viewed the organization as a machine (that is, a network of interrelated parts), Deming viewed it as a systemic whole.  Moreover, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, he saw it as management’s responsibility to be aware of the system as a whole and to be engaged in a process of continuously improving its wholeness by including and integrating the contributing views of all its parts.

Where Taylor had focused on the continuous improvement of quantity, Deming shifted the focus to quality.  It’s not that advocates of Scientific Management hadn’t appreciated the importance of quality and leadership.  They saw them, however, as technical problems to be solved by addressing the numbers arising from an analysis of individual linear processes.  Deming viewed leadership as a learning challenge to be met by developing an appreciation for context as the emergent property of a non-linear, complex system.

Konosuke Matsushita, head of Japan’s Matsushita Electronics, said in 1982:

“We are going to win and the Industrial West is going to lose out; there’s not much you can do about it because the reasons for your failure are within yourselves.  Your firms are built on the Taylor model.  Even worse, so are your heads.  With your bosses doing the thinking while the workers wield the screwdrivers, you’re convinced deep down that this is the right way to run a business.  For you the essence of management is getting the ideas out of the heads of the bosses and into the hands of labor.  

We are beyond your mindset.  Business, we know, is now so complex and difficult, the survival of firms so hazardous in an environment increasingly unpredictable, competitive and fraught with danger, that their continued existence depends on the day-to-day mobilization of every ounce of intelligence.”

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