Featured Product
This Week in Quality Digest Live
Sustainability Features
Leah Chan Grinvald
Independent repair shops are fighting for access to vehicles’ increasingly sophisticated data
Gad Allon
Aligning timing, leadership, and strategy is complicated
Poornima Apte
MIT Ph.D. student researches additive manufacturing of metal-ceramic composites
Mike Figliuolo
You might be at risk and not even know it. How engaged are you?
Ron Soonieus
Strong personal leadership is needed to ensure competitive advantage and corporate longevity

More Features

Sustainability News
3D printing technology enables mass production of complex aluminum parts
Encouraging production of more environmentally friendly building materials 
Scaling operations to reduce plastic waste in oceans
Licensed AMCM technology prints finished part in minutes, hastens pace for carbon-free mobility
Sustainable materials designed to be reused and restocked again and again
Survey shows 85% of top performers rely on it to achieve business objectives
Key takeaways from Marcum’s 2023 National Manufacturing Survey
Educational offerings available in Santa Clara in December 2023

More News

Quality Digest


Profound Knowledge in Complex Systems: A Business Case

Andrew McKeon on Deming’s teaching within the framework of sustainability

Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 - 16:26

There is no substitute for knowledge...
—W. Edwards Deming

The W. Edwards Deming Institute (deming.org) and Purdue University held their 2013 Annual Fall Conference in West Lafayette, Indiana, last week, focusing on Deming’s ideas and their connection to the critical concept of sustainability.

The concept of doing the “right thing” in a business environment, although not new, seems to be gaining recognition and prompting much discussion, as evidenced by events like the institute’s presentation of Deming’s teachings within the framework of sustainability and also Ford Motor Co.’s trend conference in June, which posited that “a company can differentiate itself from the competition by operating in an open, fair, honest, and ecologically sound manner.”

One of the keynote speakers at the institute’s conference was Andrew McKeon, director of operations at Markit Environmental Registry. According to the institute, McKeon is also co-author with Gipsie Ranney of the paper, “Climate Change and Management,” which focuses on applying Deming’s ideas to the challenges of the 21st century. McKeon defines sustainability in two words: systems thinking. “The ultimate system is our planet, and the ultimate aim is survival and continuation of life over the long-term,” says McKeon. “Deming’s ideas on the importance of understanding aim and alignment, interdependence, and diversity—i.e., understanding systems—are absolutely necessary to solve today’s biggest problems.”

Quality Digest (QD) interviewed McKeon on Quality Digest Live (QDL), Sept. 27, 2013, in anticipation of the conference and McKeon’s scheduled presentation, “Disruptive Sustainability.” QDL co-host Mike Richman asked, “What does the Deming system of profound knowledge have to say about sustainability?” According to McKeon, quite a lot.

McKeon referenced his QD article, “Deming, Profound Knowledge, and Global Sustainability.” “The System of Profound Knowledge has four interrelated and interdependent components” he explains:
1. Appreciation for a system
2. Knowledge about variation
3. Theory of knowledge
4. Human psychology”

McKeon goes on to examine climate change, referring to those four components.

“Since the industrial revolution we’ve really viewed the earth as a tool and a subsystem of the global economy, but from a sustainability standpoint, that’s inside-out,” he says. “Although the global economy may be the most powerful subsystem of the earth and the biosphere, indeed it is a subsystem because the economy is totally dependent on the larger system. not the other way around.”

McKeon then poses his own question: “So then how do we manage the global economy as a subsystem?”

According to McKeon, atmospheric CO2 levels are way out of the normal variation limits relative to the last 2 million years. “And that has a lot of implications for how the planet is going to look, so knowledge of variation becomes very important,” he says. The SPC tie-in becomes clearer as the interview continues, “For me it wasn’t Deming to climate change; it was climate change to Deming,” says McKeon. “And seeing that graph and understanding about variation really brought it home for me. His knowledge and his way of framing things were very important for this.”

When asked if Deming might think that the term “sustainability” is more catchphrase and sloganeering than substantial, McKeon responded, “I think there is a danger that it is being used as sloganeering by many companies—and it becomes a turn-off for people, and that’s a problem.”

On a positive note McKeon cited companies that “are sustainability rock stars that began by saying, ‘We can’t continue making products and destroying the planet,’ and then figured out ways for their products to actually be restorative to the planet.”

McKeon’s dedication to green practices in business was evident as he spoke of his upcoming keynote speech. “What I want most out of this conference at Purdue is for people to understand that whether business leaders were influenced by Deming, they were embodying those principles.”

Here’s the complete interview as seen on Quality Digest Live:


About The Author

Quality Digest’s picture

Quality Digest

For 40 years Quality Digest has been the go-to source for all things quality. Our newsletter, Quality Digest, shares expert commentary and relevant industry resources to assist our readers in their quest for continuous improvement. Our website includes every column and article from the newsletter since May 2009 as well as back issues of Quality Digest magazine to August 1995. We are committed to promoting a view wherein quality is not a niche, but an integral part of every phase of manufacturing and services.