Since I felt compelled to type out a long quote for use on a mailing list, I might as well stick it up here, too. This is from Deming’s Out of the Crisis, pp. 128–129, in its chapter on “Diseases and Obstacles”; the blockquote sections are indented in the original.

Search for Examples. Improvement of quality is a method, transferable to different problems and circumstances. It does not consist of cookbook procedures on file ready for specific application to this or that kind of product.

It is not unusual for a consultant to receive an enquiry for examples of success in a similar product line. One man enquired if the methods of this book had ever been used in the manufacture of wheelchairs. Another enquired about compressors for air conditioners: did I know of any application? Another man enquired about the management of a hospital: would the 14 points apply? Another wondered about application in a large accounting firm. Another man wondered if the principles taught in this book had ever been used in the manufacture of automobiles, as if he had never heard of Japan’s automobiles. A banker wondered about application in banks.

A man just called on the telephone from Johannesburg with the proposal that he come to this country and visit with me six companies that are doing well. He needed examples, he said.

My answer to such enquiries is that no number of examples of success or of failure in the improvement of quality and productivity would indicate to the enquirer what success his company would have. His success would depend totally on his knowledge of the 14 points and of the diseases and obstacles, and the efforts that he himself puts forth.

Too often this is the story. The management of a company, seized with a desire to improve quality and productivity, knowing not how to go about it, having not guidance from principles, seeking enlightenment, embark on excursions to other companies that are ostensibly doing well. They are received with open arms, and the exchange of ideas commences. They (visitors) learn what the host is doing, some of which may by accident be in accordance with the 14 points. Devoid of guiding principles, they are both adrift. Neither company knows whether or why any procedure is right, nor whether or why another is wrong. The question is not whether a business is successful, but why? and why it was not more successful? One can only hope that the visitors enjoy the ride. They are more to be pitied than censured.

It is a hazard to copy. It is necessary to understand the theory of what one wishes to do or to make. Americans are great copiers (QC-Circles, Kanban or just in time, for example). The fact is that the Japanese learn the theory of what they wish to make, then improve on it.

QC-Circles contribute vitally to industry in Japan. American management, without understanding management’s role in a QC-Circle, try to copy QC-Circles, only to find some time later that they have a dud. QC-Circles that enjoy cooperation and action by management will do well anywhere.

It was related to me during a seminar (source unfortunately unrecorded) that the management of a company that makes furniture, doing well, took it into their heads to expand their line into pianos. Why not make pianos? They bought a Steinway piano, took it apart, made or bought parts, and put a piano together exactly like the Steinway, only to discover that they could only get thuds out of their product. So they put the Steinway piano back together with the intention to get their money back on it, only to discover that it too would now only make thuds.

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