Deming wasn't wrong LO14732

Graham (
Mon, 25 Aug 1997 11:07:10 +0000

Replying to LO14716 --

Jack quoted Siegel as saying
> >I have listened with interest to the discussion on whether Deming was
> >wrong in his view that performance appraisals, particularly formal ones,
> >are always more harmful than beneficial.
> >
> >I am interested in the way that debates about Dr. Deming's ideas are
> >discussed. One question I have often asked is, are Dr. Deming's ideas
> >theories in the scientific sense, capable of being established or
> >refuted (to some degree of risk of being wrong) by evidence?
> >

> >But I find myself puzzled that we are discussing the issue the way we
> >are. Why aren't we asking what the evidence is? Why aren't we discussing
> >ways to acquire new evidence or close holes in the existing evidence?
> >Why does systematic evidence seem to be absent from, or at most, at the
> >periphery of this discussion rather than at its center? Scientific
> >inquiry seems to be the last thing that would occur to us as a way to
> >resolve disputes of this sort. Yet from everything I understand about
> >Dr. Deming's work, this is at the center of his ideas about how to
> >succeed.
> >
> >Without a systematic, rational way to address disputes, how can we hope
> >for debate ever to be anything more than a shouting match? And why
> >should we expect the management of a company to be based on anything but
> >politics or, at best, wishful thinking?
> >
> >I would urge everyone to review the posts on this topic (and others) and
> >look carefully about the kinds of arguments being used. Each of the four
> >kinds of arguments (repetition, authority, experience, and morality) has
> >some place in exploring issues. But I believe much of the Deming
> >philosophy stands for the proposition that there is a better way for
> >members of an organization to discuss what works and how to proceed.
> >
> >Jonathan Siegel

I don't know anything about Deming, but I just want to note that these
posts place science at the centre, and morality at the periphery. This is
surely wrong. Management, like education and medicine, is an area of
practical action which, in the end, has to do with decisions about actions
assessable in terms of some sort of human good. As such, it falls within
the field which Aristotle described as phronesis, or practical wisdom.

Science doesn't tell us what we should do, though it can give us some
valuable information which we can use in the process. The attempt to turn
management into a "science" will have the same bizarre results which are
often obvious in education, which has been down that road in an attempt to
become "teacher" (and thereby "judgement") proof. Quite often, in
practical wisdom, the situations in which judgement need to be made are
too complex and unique to lend themselves to the sort of control and
comparison which science requires in order to find regularities. I
presume that this is why the study of rich cases if of such value.

Bertrand Russell is hardly a neutral adjudicator in this dispute. For
science, he was a positivist, or logical empiricist, which means that in
ethics, he would be relativist or subjectivist, and emphasize a radical
difference between science and ethics (as the quote suggests). On such a
view, management will come down to something like awful politics, but the
view represents only one relatively extreme position. Ethics, too, has
theories, but (as one would expect) they have to be defended on ethical,
not scientific, grounds, and adopted or rejected in those terms.

Just my two cents...


R. Graham Oliver (h) 07-856-3566
Education Studies, University of Waikato
Hamilton, New Zealand (w) 07-856-2859


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