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Davis Balestracci

Quality Insider

Some Days, If We Couldn’t Laugh, We’d Cry

Five-minute humor therapy

Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - 11:23

I’m in the middle of a hot, humid stretch of weather, as are many of the U.S. readers. I can hardly think straight, so I’ve decided to lighten things up a bit today.

Many of you have seen me present and know that I try to inject healthy doses of humor to make key points. As my mentor and dear friend Rodney Dueck said to me while we tried to transform culture, one has to “think of it all as entertainment.” He kept reminding me that we can’t take ourselves and our passion for improvement seriously all the time.

I quoted W. Edwards Deming in my last newsletter: “Don't waste too much time on tools and techniques. You can learn the lot in 15 minutes.”

But what if you had only five minutes?

We all do a lot of teaching. I think Father Guido Sarducci's* concept of a five-minute university is brilliant. Just think of its potential to help cultures pass external audits when the auditors swarm upon them, or when judges for quality awards visit:

So, what would the final exam of our Five-Minute University of Improvement be?

Q: Why do we need quality improvement?
A: “Because when we improve, we get better.” (Believe it or not, a CEO at a quality awards banquet I attended actually said that!)

Q: Why do we need statistics?
A: (Serious look on face; pointing with index finger) “Variation!”

Q: What quality philosophy do you use, and how do you apply statistics?
A: “Profound knowledge and PDSA.”

Teaching improvement has a famous precedent

Once we “get" improvement, it’s so easy for passion to get the better of us—it just makes such perfect sense and is so clear... to us! I was present at one of W. Edwards Deming’s initial lectures on his synthesis of improvement theory called Profound Knowledge. It absolutely blew me away—and took me 5–10 years to even begin to understand all its subtleties and how to make it actually work in the everyday world.

Do you see an analogy between teaching improvement and the Beatitudes from the Biblical “Sermon on the Mount?” The following is based on a humorous speculation about the disciples’ reactions during the dress rehearsal....

Then Deming took his disciples up on the mountain and gathered them around him. And he taught them saying, “You must have Profound Knowledge.”

Blessed are:
• The front line
• Those who see everything as a process
• Those who blame processes, not people
• Those who see every process as part of an interconnected system
• Those who ask, “Was this undesirable situation the result of common cause or special cause variation?”
• Those who “plot the dots!”
• Those who don’t tamper
• Those who don’t use arbitrary numerical goals to motivate
• Those who realize that given any set of numbers, 10 percent of them will be the top 10 percent, and 25 percent of them will be the bottom quartile
• Those who remove barriers to pride in work
• Those who experiment using PDSA to test a well-formulated theory
• Those who understand that it’s all about reducing variation

And Peter said, “Do we have to write all this down?”

And Philip said, “Is there going to be a test?”

And James said, “Huh?”

And Andrew said, “Joseph Juran’s disciples don't have to learn this stuff.”

And Bartholomew said, “Will I have to stand up in front of others and teach this?”

And Matthew said, “Enough theory! Where are the tools we need to use?”

And Judas said, “Get real! Who is ever going to use this in the real world?”

And Simon the Zealot said, “I’m already too busy. How much more time is this going to take?”

And John said, “I already knew this, but it was a great review! When can I start teaching it to those who really need it?”

Then one of the human resource executives, an expert in training, said, “I don’t see any of this in the syllabus. Do you have a lesson plan? Is there an activity for each of the four intelligences? Where is the study guide? Will there be any authentic assessment? What are your terminal objectives in the cognitive domain? Will remediation and extra credit be provided for those who did not meet class requirements so they can still pass?”

And the executive who came late said, “I’m late for my next meeting. Can you give me the five-minute overview and tell me how much money this will initially cost, then save?”

And Thomas, who had missed the presentation, came to Deming privately and asked, “Did we do anything important today?”

And Deming wept.


* Father Guido Sarducci, played by Don Novello, is a relatively famous character of U.S. comedy from the 1980s—the persona of a somewhat irreverent priest with an Italian accent to his English.


About The Author

Davis Balestracci’s picture

Davis Balestracci

Davis Balestracci is a past chair of ASQ’s statistics division. He has synthesized W. Edwards Deming’s philosophy as Deming intended—as an approach to leadership—in the second edition of Data Sanity (Medical Group Management Association, 2015), with a foreword by Donald Berwick, M.D. Shipped free or as an ebook, Data Sanity offers a new way of thinking using a common organizational language based in process and understanding variation (data sanity), applied to everyday data and management. It also integrates Balestracci’s 20 years of studying organizational psychology into an “improvement as built in” approach as opposed to most current “quality as bolt-on” programs. Balestracci would love to wake up your conferences with his dynamic style and entertaining insights into the places where process, statistics, organizational culture, and quality meet.


The Soul of Humor

Re-phrased from V.D. Hanson's The Soul of Battle, the above subject is certainly not intended to mean "no number, no cry" but that motivation to Man IS NOT given by numbers only, instead. Thank you.


The CEO who said, " when we improve, we get better”  - was that Yogi Berra?