Looking at the Other Side of the ‘Moon’

Kelly Allan

The dangers of managing only by what you can see

If you're managing by visible numbers alone you're likely not getting the real picture of what's going on. What is obvious is typically not the full story and perhaps is even incorrect, writes contributor Kelly Allan. Includes a Reader's Mini Guide to the works of Dr. W. Edwards Deming.

Dr. Joyce Nilsson Orsini tells a great story of how as a child she failed an intelligence test. Her parents and teachers knew she was intelligent because she had demonstrated her intelligence in many ways.

Yet, they were concerned by many of her responses on the test.

For example, one section of the test asked the young test-takers to identify images of the moon. Joyce identified the commonly called "full moon" as a half moon, and what is commonly described as a "half moon" as a quarter moon.

Her parents and teachers wanted to explore with her why she had missed such obvious answers to easy questions. When they asked her about her answers she explained: I said it was a half moon, not a full moon, because there is another side of the moon. Just because we cannot see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We know it exists. So, to me it doesn’t seem correct to identify the photo as a "full moon," when it only shows half the moon –the half which we can readily observe.

What about the half of the moon that you don't see?

Image source: NASA

Is it any wonder that such a precocious girl would grow up to be a highly respected and pioneering statistician, professor, and administrator who thinks differently? Dr. Orsini is also the person who compiled THE ESSENTIAL DEMING: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality.

One reason Dr. Orsini’s full moon and half moon story is so meaningful to me is that Dr. W. Edwards Deming also saw the other side of a different "moon" –the moon (or moons) of data and organizations. In fact, he saw ways to look at data and ways to look into organizations – ways that went beyond the superficial and obvious observations to reveal what is really going on – and why.

For example, Dr. Deming pointed out why it is dangerous merely to look at visible numbers alone (such as those supplied in a 12-month spread sheet of sales, profits, deliveries, defects, quality, lost-time accidents, and other types of performance data). Spreadsheets can mislead us because of their seeming objectivity and simplicity.

  • One reason why it is dangerous merely to look at visible data on spreadsheets is that spreadsheets (as with any obviously visible data) tend to prompt a person to search for direct cause and effect relationships in the data. In fact, research shows the human brain tends to want to look for specific reasons why the data in the spreadsheet change week-to-week or month-to-month –even though no direct reason may exist.
  • Another reason why relying on visible data alone is dangerous is that it is expensive in both money and time to seek reasons why the numbers change. Understanding our proclivity for wanting to seek reasons, Dr. Deming helped us with methods we can use to discover true cause and effect –and to know when it is important and worthwhile (and when it is not important and not worthwhile) to invest time and money looking for cause and effect. By the way, without those methods the chances are slim that you will make meaningful decisions and take meaningful actions. In fact, in such situations your actions are more likely to make matters worse.

Deming’s methods help to keep us from getting trapped into providing "obvious" superficial explanations of what we observe in the data, just because we can see the obvious data clearly. Dr. Deming like Dr. Orsini knew there was more to things than just what we could see on the surface of the "moon".

The works of Dr. W. Edwards Demings are worthwhile reading for all business leaders - below is a suggestion on how to get started

To put it another way: Dr. Deming’s books, OUT OF THE CRISIS and THE NEW ECONOMICS (and now THE ESSENTIAL DEMING) reveal the other side of organizational moons, moons of data and variation, moons of the psychology of human motivation, moons of reliable ways of learning and testing, and moons of how to lead a system, and to avoid the pitfalls of superficial views of the moons of performance and appraisals.

And, just as the young Joyce Nilsson Orsini recognized that what is obvious is typically not the full story (and perhaps is even incorrect), Dr. Deming recognized that by using obvious and visible numbers (and observations) alone could destroy organizations and people. When we rely only the obvious we are more likely to take unhelpful and costly actions.

Dr. Deming packed "seeing the other side of the moon" insights into his books. Marvelous. His teachings changed the world –even though most of what he taught has not yet been applied. That is the case in part because unpacking the profoundly important insights in his books is not always so easy –although in my experience it is always worthwhile.

To assist with that unpacking of Deming’s genius, attendees at the 19thAnnual International Deming Research Seminar (25-26 February 2013 held at Fordham University in New York City) participated in an activity to develop a Reader’s Mini Guide to Dr. Deming’s teachings.

Here it is.

A Reader’s Mini Guide to the Teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming Provided by Participants in the Research Seminar

Suggestions for readers who want to try to read Dr. Deming’s books (or who want to try reading them again).

  • Start your journey of Deming with THE NEW ECONOMICS. People think of Deming only in terms of quality, and thereby missing so much else. However, in THE NEW ECOMONICS you get useful exposure to his leadership principles and methods. It is a great place to start.
  • Don’t rush the reading journey. Go slowly. Reflect. You might limit yourself to reading only a few pages at a time and thinking about what you read. It is worth it because as you explore you will discover entirely new ways of thinking and seeing.
  • One of the wonderful things about reading Deming is that you can expect to have your ideas challenged –which is actually a very exciting thing. You will discover ways to reduce costly, unintended consequences of generally accepted management practices.
  • As you read also try taking little actions --actions that you would not normally take and tools you wouldn’t normally use. Start simply. Do a flow chart, for example. Do a scatter plot.
  • There are excellent examples of Deming’s management method in THE NEW ECONOMICS. When you contrast Deming’s approach with what is typically used to manage people today, you wonder why we haven’t moved more in Deming’s direction.
  • Deming on the management of people is refreshing, practical, humane, and effective. The obvious and merely observable performance of people is dictated 95% by the system in which people work. We waste huge amounts of time and money trying to control people who are actually controlled by the system. In the process we raise our costs, lower our quality and increase the turnover in staff.
  • It is all about thinking differently about how to manage people. Extrinsic motivational techniques will drive out the healthy intentions people have. Extrinsic motivation also will diminish the supply of the much more powerful intrinsic motivation people bring with them when they start a new job.
  • A really important point that comes through in Deming’s writings: People know everything they need to know about their work, except how to improve it. We think we can use enumerative measures to know what is going on. In fact, in OUT OF THE CRISIS you learn that just counting something with an "enumerative study"–and making decisions based on the enumerative study alone can lead us to the wrong conclusions and actions. To really know what is going on, we need to apply Deming’s teachings and methods via analytical studies so we can understand what actually caused the numbers. The aim is to improve a practice and/or to make a prediction, not just to do comparisons of numbers. Deming demonstrates this in his books.
  • Deming points out that there is no real learning without a theory. At first that sounds academic and too conceptual. On the surface (back to the moon analogy again!) theory does not seem practical. That is typically because people don’t understand how to apply theory in practice. But as you come to understand what Deming meant by a theory, you realize there is nothing more practical than being clear about theories related to decisions and actions.
  • As you are reading, never forget one of Deming’s key points: Survival is not mandatory. If we are going to survive, we need to think and act in ways that are more helpful than much of what we are doing now.
  • Pay close attention to the causes of the destruction of a system and the destruction of children and learning. The effect on children, such as driving out their joy in learning, is a special focus in THE NEW ECONOMICS.
  • The chapter on "The 14 Points for Management" is a great place to start (in OUT OF THE CRISIS). The 14 Points cause you to realize that thinking differently can be really powerful for your organization. The 14 Points are counterintuitive, which is why you want to keep exploring them –and Deming helps you do that with his examples.
  • Deming’s approach as described in his books takes into consideration the entire organization system and ways to improve it. His suggestions for ways to lead a system have features attractive to CEOs: improved profits, increased sales, customer retention, and beneficial outcomes.
  • For context while you are reading, think about the effect of Deming’s methods on Japan, a nation that after the Second World War was devastated. The country rebounded and came back to life starting in the 1950s by using the statistical foundation of Deming’s teachings. They changed how the world thought about quality and productivity. In the following decades Dr. Deming began speaking and writing about appropriate management methods.

The items, above, came from the participants at the Deming Research Seminar. It would be great if the Reader’s Mini Guide continued to grow. So, we hope you will please add your suggestions so more and more people will use Dr. Deming’s teachings to see the other side of the moon in their data and organizations. Please use the comments feature below to type your suggestions.

Suggestions for other books/articles to read OR videos to watch:

  • A BETTER WAY by Don Petersen (look for it used because it is out of print)
  • DRIVE (second edition, which includes Dr. Deming) by Daniel Pink. Deming’s points about intrinsic motivation (vs. extrinsic motivation) are at the core of the message of this book.
  • FREE, PERFECT and NOW by Rob Rodin. Rodin helped to create an American Miracle (vs. the Japanese Miracle) using Deming’s teachings.
  • Deming of America (video) by Priscilla Petty. A great way to see interviews with Deming as he talks about his teachings.
  • THE LEADER’S HANDBOOK by Peter Scholtes. Scholtes and Deming worked together closely. Scholtes writes clearly, and his real world examples are fun and engaging. A great combination of theory and practice.
  • Harvard Business Review July/August 1980: Managing Our Way to Economic Declineby William J. Abernathy and Robert H. Hayes. The authors provide a scathing and richly documented criticism of U.S. managers’ focus on short-term financial gain at the expense of long-term competitiveness. [Interestingly, the NBC White Paper documentary, "If Japan Can, Why Can’t We" aired in the same time frame, and featured Dr. W. Edwards Deming with a solution to USA’s economic decline.]

But what do you think? What else should be included on the reader's guide to Deming? Let us know by leaving a comment.


Author's note: I want to offer a BIG thank you to the contributors of ideas and the above suggestions at the Deming Research Conference (in no particular order):

Gerry Tahash, Diana Deming Cahill, Pierre Deschamps, Lukasz Kozon, Robert Gerst, Robert V. Cahill, Eunice del R. Garcia de Lewis, Leah Schneider, Marcia Daszko, Larsa Davidson, Judy Cahill, Sarah Strobhar, Craig Becker, Dave Nave, Dr. Charu Hurria, Brian Mickelsen Gamble, Jon-Michael Parker, Dr. William J. Feuss,

I also want to thank the sponsors and everyone who made the event run so smoothly.

The 19thAnnual International Deming Research Seminar was sponsored by:

--Fordham University Graduate School of Business Administration

--The W. Edwards Deming Institute

--The Deming Cooperative

Copyright 2013 by Kelly L. Allan. Permission is granted to all readers to distribute freely!

Editor’s Note: The columns published in THE DEMING FILES have been written under the Editorial Guidelines set by The W. Edwards Deming Institute. The Institute views these columns as opportunities to enhance, extend, and illustrate Dr. Deming’s theories. The authors have knowledge of Dr. Deming’s body of work, and the content of each column is the expression of each author’s interpretation of the subject matter.