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Paul Naysmith

Quality Insider

The Real Men Who Built America

A modest proposal for the History channel—and quality managers

Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - 13:49

My Tuesday evenings have recently been filled thanks to the entertainment provided by the very nice people at the History channel. I’ve been thoroughly entranced by the show, The Men Who Built America. Production quality aside, it’s really an incredible feat, on reflection, how a TV channel could founder so spectacularly in presenting a “reality show” purporting to be a documentary.

As the History channel describes the program on its website: “John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and J. P. Morgan rose from obscurity and in the process built modern America.... These men created the American Dream and were the engine of capitalism as they transformed everything they touched.... Their paths crossed repeatedly as they elected presidents, set economic policies, and influenced major events.... Using state-of-the-art, computer-generated imagery that incorporates 12 million historical negatives, many made available for the first time by the Library of Congress, this series will bring back to life the world they knew and the one they created.”

What the History channel doesn’t state is that intertwined with computer graphics and questionable acting are accounts from historical biographers and interviews with today’s political figures or entrepreneurial moguls, all giving their take on the particular man focused on during an episode.

So far I’ve been entertained, although not particularly well educated, and this vexes me. I don’t need the violence, the soap operettas of vendettas between Rockefeller and Vanderbilt, or one-dimensional actors. I yearn for knowledge.

Believing that there may be a desire at some future time to produce a series on the work and lives of my favorite quality gurus has driven me to write an open letter to the History channel:

Dear History Channel Producers,
I like your television station. I like your programming. However, I would like to recommend that if you have funding for a follow-up to the series, The Men Who Built America, you consider presenting the quality gurus who lived during the 20th century as the next group of “men.” This subject is under-reported or discussed in mainstream media; however, their ideas have massive implications in today’s society.

Although following statisticians or management thinkers may not seem to be a great subject to re-create, it would celebrate a group of Americans that, through their timeless ideas, had a greater global impact beyond the borders of America than is often recognized here. These business ideas are more applicable today than ever before, and perhaps by presenting this series about the quality gurus, the History channel might become at least indirectly responsible for helping the global economy recover.

As a self-proclaimed quality punk and improvement ninja, I would be available to consult, or even appear as a spokesman, on the series, but only if the following conditions are met:

1. When using special effects to take the viewer back to the period when the quality guru was at his peak, they should be similar in nature to an over-the-top superhero movie. I would like car chases, space robots, and explosions. I wouldn’t be too put off by a laser gun battle, either. If the budget isn’t available for this, I would be happy to focus on the “men” themselves.

2. The actors must be selected from a pool of trained Shakespearian professionals. I would like to see Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame as Joseph Juran, and Anthony Hopkins as W. Edwards Deming. Actors of this stature could easily give gravitas to their roles. In addition, with their British accents, it is possible that the show might then appeal to a wider female audience. Should you choose to portray Quality Digest’s Dirk Dusharme or Mike Richman as characters, I would recommend auditioning a Wookie and an Ewok, respectively, for these roles. I say this with all due respect; however, both Wookie and Ewok would have to be strategically shaven to become the spitting images of Dirk and Mike.

3. Location shoots: I will happily consult on filming locations. I only fly economy, and therefore this can save some money toward actors’ fees. For more money-saving ideas, I must note that I can provide my own phone and translation app, necessary for translating my Scottish-English into Americanese. This device would prove invaluable when travelling throughout the United States, Japan, China, and Europe.

4. When pitting the men against each other, rather than having the actors exchange glares, perhaps the script could be written to show them meeting and collaborating, as per the foundations of the quality principles they taught.

5. Footage from the past: My genius idea of selecting 20th-century icons of the quality age means there is plenty of photographic and video footage available for inclusion. Much of this can be easily researched from the Internet. This I can assist with; however, if you could please provide a new iPad and pay my Internet fees during production, I would be most grateful.

6. Selecting the director will be critical to the series’ success. My preference would be Steven Spielberg because, as you know, he can delicately convey a story with such beauty that it will tug on the heart strings of all ages and become an instant classic. Appreciating that he may be a little busy, I’d also suggest martial arts movie master John Woo from Hong Kong.

Paul Naysmith


I remember the days when documentaries had an educational element to them, rather than an entertainment focus. Although I’m happy to let a historian explain, for instance, the brutalities of our medieval past, I’m not so happy to have it graphically thrust directly into my retinas. Perhaps my ideas of what constitutes a good documentary are outdated, but I realize my work methods shouldn’t be as limiting as my ideas.

In his book, The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education: Second Edition (MIT Press, 2000), Deming explained how we all learn in different ways. People may prefer to learn from observing, from doing, from reading, or from being taught. Watching TV comes naturally to most of us, and it is a powerful communication device, but how do you use it at work? Have you created a documentary or a video of the “process” to educate the observational learners?

Recently I was asked to cross the state line and attend a meeting with our insurance brokers. This was to be held in a comfortable board room, in a corporate office in the middle of Houston at the top of a tall office tower. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss our insurance claims and other items. As important as these issue were, I also needed to describe what we were doing to improve our performance and, ultimately, make fewer claims going forward.

Knowing that I couldn’t transport these VIPs to my facility, I had to take my facility to them. I did this with a little 15-minute video. (I like to think many of my quality heroes would have done the same.) On a Friday afternoon, I approached one of my team members and asked if he would like to do “some fun stuff.” I usually get an apprehensive or unsure “yes” in response. It seems my approach to work is still seen as a little confusing; why would any boss ask someone to do fun stuff? Anyway, we proceeded, and in less than two hours we captured many improvement projects and transformations to our processes. The next day I edited the video, added music, and threw in a special effect here and there.

In the darkened board room, we watched the video. Thankfully, everyone laughed at the humorous parts, and they were appreciative that we had made the video, allowing them to see what and how we make improvements, in the actual setting. Yesterday I received a nice email from our broker’s vice president, thanking us for what we are doing. She even put in four exclamation marks at the end of each sentence. I have learned that this approach worked for me, at least in this particular situation. A group of people were able to relate visually to something they haven’t actually touched.

For the suggestion I’m about to make, I apologize to my mother, who spent many years pulling me away from the TV. But here goes: Find some video footage online that will help you describe your quality ideas and improve the learning experience for yourself and others. Quality Digest has amassed an extensive library of product demonstrations (that sometimes work) and interviews with today’s quality leaders. Take a stroll through these files; there may be something to help you out today.


About The Author

Paul Naysmith’s picture

Paul Naysmith

Paul Naysmith is the author of Business Management Tips From an Improvement Ninja and Business Management Tips From a Quality Punk. He’s also a Fellow and Chartered Quality Professional with the UK’s Chartered Quality Institute (CQI), and an honorary member of the South African Quality Institute (SAQI). Connect with him at www.paulnaysmith.com, or follow him on twitter @PNaysmith.

Those who have read Paul’s columns might be wondering why they haven’t heard from him in a while. After his stint working in the United States, he moved back to his homeland of Scotland, where he quickly found a new career in the medical-device industry; became a dad to his first child, Florence; and decided to restore a classic car back to its roadworthy glory. With the help of his current employer, he’s also started the first-of-its-kind quality apprenticeship scheme, which he hopes will become a pipeline for future improvement ninjas and quality punks.


Casting Director

Anthony Hopkins to play Deming! Brilliant! You SHOULD be a Casting Director in Hollywood!!!!


Do you know how long it takes to keep my fur shiny and groomed? Do you? And don't get me started on hair balls! --Dirk

I resemble that remark

Dear Paul... OK, we've put up with the whole "Punk/Ninja" thing, and the sock o' the day bit was entertaining (for a while), but now you've gone too, too far. So Dirk is a wookie and I am an ewok? Shame on you if you can't see my inner Han Solo fighting to get out. Oh well, could have been worse, I suppose... at least you didn't call me Jabba the Hut. At least, not yet.

Dear Paul:Liked your letter! 

Dear Paul:Liked your letter!  But you said your broker’s vice president thanked you for your improvements, even putting "four explanation marks at the end of each sentence."  Did you mean an "exclamation mark (!)"?   


Editor oversight, sheesh. Good catch.