Jay Pelley | Transforming Business | Back

Jay will probably agree with me on this: rarely will a man become soulful or interesting without admiring and absorbing the work of the prominent personalities before him, many who are now deceased. People who have changed the course of history for the better should be honoured, yet I'm often surprised how little focus and effort so many people put into absorbing the wisdom of those who have already lived and died. Jay undoubtedly has many influences, but one figure that emerges consistently in his writings and talks is W. Edward Deming, an American statistician, professor, author, lecturer and consultant. I was infected by Jay's enthusiasm for Deming and decided to investigate the man for myself. On the right panel you can see some quotes by Deming, some which ring very true for me and are inspiring, but others which are mystifying and confusing.

I decided to meet up with Jay for a coffee to clarify the more confusing and esoteric points that I noted from the work of Deming.



CWW: Jay, first of all, how did you discover Deming?

Jay: I think it was in 1993, when I was in Broadcasting College, I was reading a book by Tony Robbins - "Awaken the Giant Within". Robbins used Deming to make a point that when you improve the system that people work in, specifically in certain areas, Deming’s 14 principles, you can essentially transform the entire organization into one which ebbs and flows in one direction altogether at the same time with one goal in mind: Quality.

CWW: As I wrote in the intro, much of what Deming says is intuitive and inspiring, but some of it seems esoteric and very unconventional. For instance, when he says - "Any manager can do well in an expanding market" - it seems like he's insinuating something.... like, expanding markets are bad?

Jay: Well, what he means is, if the demand is there for more product, then any manager can demand his staff create more product, essentially quantity over quality. This is called expansion for the sake of expansion. This does absolutely nothing to increase quality.

CWW: Rather than... "appropriate expansion"?

Jay: Yes, programmed, robot expansion - rather than considering what is truly in the best interests of promoting constant quality improvement.

CWW: Alright, how about this one..."Eliminate numerical quotas, including Management by Objectives." That's a tough one for people to swallow. How can we put that in a context that people would find both rational and emotionally appealing?

Jay: When you focus on quantity at the expense of quality. When producing more without making it better is anti-productive on every single level. If you made one product that had zero defects, that’s an example of team commitment to focus on quality.

CWW: But Jay, dealing with clients, what if they make an offer that demands you meet a deadline that involves a lot of quantity by a deadline?

Jay: You respectfully advise them the new quality process has no room for deadline-driven environment. It’s anti-productive and it destroys morale.

CWW: So... rather than grab the sale without consideration of noble rational values, discipline the client to be more responsible as a citizen? [laughing]

Jay: Yes.

CWW: Aright. Well, we'll explore all these things in more depth later. Until then, let's skim over his work a bit more. How about this one: Deming says, "Hold everybody accountable? Ridiculous!". What is Deming driving at here? The relationship between criminal and victim has always fascinated me, especially when it becomes very subtle and psychological. Is Deming promoting some sort of ethic here, be it philosophical, spiritual or simply pragmatic?

Jay: It helps to think in terms of the chain of production. The people who create the product (the laborers) are not accountable for product flaws - they work within the system and therefore are not accountable for the system. Accountability for a failed system should fall entirely on management because they hold a position within the company to effect change on the system. Management created the system - everyone else works inside the system.

CWW: That actually makes sense to me, because management is creating the working conditions, dictating whether or not there is stress or pressure. Managmenet creates the ideals, in terms of the quantity of product required and the deadline to move it. If the ideals of management do not respect the ideals of the people who are making the product, then you'll have a poor product. It reminds me of very eastern-styled Sage named Diogenes who once said: "Why not whip the teacher when the pupil misbehaves?".

Jay: Yes, that's good.

CWW: One idea of his that rang loud and clear, but one that I'd like us both to elaborate on: "Rational behavior requires theory. Reactive behavior requires only reflex action." This is interesting, because it seems a large sector of the economy is based on mindless, reactive behaviour. What would you add to that?

Jay: Easy always wins - it requires the least amount of thought, effort and commitment. That is the fabric of society today. This generation wants it all right now - but with zero effort. Drive-thru restaurants, instant cereal, netflix, delivery to the door, etc. To rationalize requires a cohesive thought process. Reactive behavior requires nothing more than an instinct response. It creates nothing.

CWW: We have no shortage of politicians who pursue power and reputation, but such men and women do so at the expense of the genuine needs of their surrounding workers, friends, family, even their own children. It's unethical daily conduct. The ethic for me is individual freedom, but it's very rare to encounter someone who genuinely and consciously respects that ideal. Individual freedom is a good ethic. But freedom is not comfort, and for our society, the ethic seems to be based solely on feeling good.

Jay: Yes, being ethical in society is usually akin to being politically correct, not offending anyone. If you don't offend anybody, you are usually considered to be moral. But this attitude destroys creativity, suppresses individuality and leaves nothing challenged or learned.

CWW: I don't think you can live a quality life without being offensive, at times. Is it possible that humans are just offended by what they truly are? Offended by what life is? I think we live in a culture that hates life, hates truth, and loves illusion.

Jay: You might be onto something, there because what are most people fascinated by? Movies, fame, music, always striving for things they will never have or never be. This illusion has served the entertainment world very well - illusion replaces real life, even if just for an hour or two.

CWW: Let's now focus on another one of Deming's points, which builds on our previous comments about rational vs. reactive. Deming says: "The emphasis should be on why we do a job." This point seems to draw attention again to how people don't seem to enjoy questioning why they do the things they do, and instead just focus on how to achieve whatever it is they are told to achieve. Am I on the right track here, or am I missing something?

Jay: When you stop asking "why" you become creatively dead. And that lends itself to mediocrity. Be bold - ask why. Why? Why? Why? If anyone tells you to stop asking why, or seems to have difficulty grasping the value in asking why, that person is either a typical self-serving manager, or they simply cannot fathom the exponential value gained in asking why at every opportunity.

CWW: Yes, when you stop asking why, you fall asleep. You become creatively dead, unproductive. And that lends itself to mediocrity. If anyone tells you not to ask why, don't do business with them. Such people should not have any influence in the direction of society, they have no right. Anyone who doesn't ask why, simply does not deserve to have power over the lives of others. What I often tell my friends - my life is in your hands. Be wise, or else you're putting us both in harm's way.

What I also like about Deming, and this is probably why he was regarded by some as a genius... is that he is very much a psychologist, yet has a the courage to deal with the obvious and simple. For instance, he says: "Whenever there is fear, you will get wrong figures." What sort of measures does a company have to take to prevent a fearful environment?

Jay: His peers did often regard him as a genius, but Deming didn't like the term, and in fact, disliked labels. Deming was very specific about fear.

CWW: Well, labels seem to stir fear. Even when the label insinuates positive characteristics, it is alienating to the ones not being associated with the aggrandizing label. And the one who is rewarded with the prestigious label ends up being burdened by the definitions of the ones surrounding him. Definitions, and reality itself is very elastic, whereas words are confining.

Jay: Demming discovered that fear is the number one motivator tool managers use to get staff to do what they want. If a manager wants a 15% budget cut, he will use the possibility that if he doesn’t get the 15%, those under him might lose their jobs. So, at the risk of losing their job, or not getting a promotion, those staffers will sacrifice quality to reach a numerical goal. Sure, they can meet the target, but quality suffers, and pride of work suffers - essentially they feel ashamed - but - they kept their jobs - for now.

CWW: I agree. I also think a work environment of employees who can't discuss below the surface is alienating, because it creates a fragmentation of group values. Individuals in opposition to each other in regards to mere taste and surface politics. If you can't feel at one with your coworkers, people are going to alienate one another. People who can't talk about the human condition, or are unwilling to - I suppose they are pretending that there isn't one? Society is very much a tragedy, but humans prefer this "theatre" in favor of the divine comedy of life and truth. Eventually, through denial of reality and subservience to what is fake, someone attacks simply out of frustration. It reminds me of that volcano metaphor I was showing you.

Another sign of Deming as a psychologist with ethics that resonates with many spiritual traditions is when he says "When a system is stable, telling the worker about mistakes is only tampering." What context would you frame this in to help people understand?

Jay: Criticizing something that is already working indicates a power-play by a self-serving manager/individual. People who exploit others beneath them to increase personal gain. These are people who want to stir up shit for the sake of being the “hero” and saving the day in a fabricated illusion just to make themselves appear competent.

CWW: Couldn't have said it better. To wrap up our talk, this last quote I wish to discuss is a strange and exciting one.

"You can not define being exactly on time."

As a student of spirituality and philosophy, the subject of both "being", "becoming", and "time" is extremely important. It has become very clear to me that "time" is in fact an invention and that it doesn't objectively exist. For instance, when we feel the pressure of time, we feel the pressure of a deadline. The deadline, which is based on the concept of time, does not actually exist outside of the mind. It is another man's invention, and one ends up submitting to the illusion of another man - which is emasculation. If humans knew how to live honestly and humbly, they would never feel pressure from time, because if you can't make a deadline, you effortlessly change it. Who has a problem with not meeting deadline? Who is the man who thinks it's the end of the world if a deadline is not met? This is a very greedy, fearful, controlling man, who is making life hell for everyone beneath him. Am I on the right track?

Jay: There are so many variables at work in a productive and constantly improving environment. The system workers work in is not controlled by them, so in every sense of the word, they cannot control time. And by time I mean deadlines, objectives, statistics. The only people within a system that should be worried about the system are those that manage the system.

CWW: Jay, really glad you brought this guy to my attention. It's interesting that Deming was American, but initially could not get any American corporations to listen to his ideas, and then went overseas to Japan and brought them the economic foundation of the success we've seen in the Japanese auto industry. I find it interesting because so much of Deming's philosophy mirrors the philosophy of Taoism, which originated in China, but likely has influenced the psychology of Japan as well. Jay, I hope you check out the short book "The Tao Te Ching", I have it linked in the right column. Absorbing the bit on Deming has done nothing but strengthen my faith that I've been on the right path for many years and it's going to keep getting better. It's been a blast good sir! I hope you continue to build Core Webworks, we wouldn't be what we are right now without you.

Carrying body and soul and embracing the one,
Can you avoid separation?
Attending fully and becoming supple,
Can you be as a newborn babe?
Washing and cleansing the primal vision,
Can you be without stain?
Loving all men and ruling the country,
Can you be without cleverness?
Opening and closing the gates of heaven,
Can you play the role of woman?
Understanding and being open to all things,
Are you able to do nothing?
Giving birth and nourishing,
Bearing yet not possessing,
Working yet not taking credit,
Leading yet not dominating,
This is the Primal Virtue

- Tao Te Ching, verse 10

W. Edwards Deming

"All anyone asks for is a chance to work with pride."
"Any manager can do well in an expanding market."
"Eliminate numerical quotas, including Management by Objectives."
"Hold everybody accountable? Ridiculous!"
"If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing."
"If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing."
"Innovation comes from the producer - not from the customer."
"It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best."
"It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."
"Lack of knowledge... that is the problem."
"Learning is not compulsory... neither is survival."
"Profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your project or service, and that bring friends with them."
"Quality is everyone's responsibility."
"Rational behavior requires theory. Reactive behavior requires only reflex action."
"The average American worker has fifty interruptions a day, of which seventy percent have nothing to do with work."
"The emphasis should be on why we do a job."
"The result of long-term relationships is better and better quality, and lower and lower costs."
"We are here to make another world."
"When a system is stable, telling the worker about mistakes is only tampering."
"Whenever there is fear, you will get wrong figures."
"It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best."
"When a system is stable, telling the worker about mistakes is only tampering."
"It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best."
"You can not define being exactly on time."

(W. Edwards Deming)

Further Reading

Psychology Today | Passive Aggression
To get rid of a bad thing, first become aware of it?

Tao Te Ching | by Lao Tzu
timeless wisdom that belongs to the whole of humanity

The Ending of Time | by Physicist David Bohm & J. Krishnamurti
feeling panic and pressure from deadlines? Rushing and Cramming? Why?!

Comedy and Truth

George Carlin | Time

George Carlin | Teach your children to question