Scott Paton  |  05/03/2009

Reading Lessons

Read any good books lately?

I am a creature of habit. I have favorites (authors, foods, directors, friends, family members, books—not necessarily in that order) that I like to revisit every so often. This is particularly true when I’m stressed out. I reread The Hobbit and Siddhartha every few years, and, of course, I have my annual So I Married an Axe Murderer movie festival.

I have to admit that although I will willingly reread a novel or watch a movie several times, I’m not so good at rereading nonfiction works. I suspect most people are the same way. It’s easy to watch a fun movie every few months or years, but reread a business book or a textbook?

If you’re like me, your reading falls into two categories: want-to read and have-to read. I want to read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; I have to read Getting Things Done. Because I’m an editor and publisher (and I just love to read), I read a lot, and I read very fast.

I realized a few years ago that my want-to reading list was always a lot longer and had a lot more fiction on it than my have-to reading list, which really doesn’t have any fiction on it. I also realized that I was missing out on a lot of really good stuff that was not only “good for me” but also enjoyable on a different level than the latest murder mystery. So, I resolved to read one nonfiction book for every fiction book that I read.

I’ve read some really good stuff because of this: fun nonfiction stuff like Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and A Short History of Nearly Everything, some good historical reads such as How the Irish Saved Civilization and The Professor and the Madman, and some good, more traditional business books like Freakonomics and the aforementioned Getting Things Done. I’ve also read some off-the-wall stuff like Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, which was actually quite good.

My rather roundabout review of my reading habits reminds me that there are a lot of good quality-related books out there that could stand rereading. Most quality professionals have read (or should have read) W. Edwards Deming’s Out of the Crisis, Joseph M. Juran’s Juran on Quality by Design (No, I haven’t read Juran’s Quality Handbook from cover to cover. At 1,872 pages, I doubt many people have.), and Philip C. Crosby’s Quality Is Free. I read all three quite some time ago. I read Out of the Crisis while attending Deming’s four-day seminar in 1992. I read Juran on Quality by Design prior to interviewing Juran back in 1993. I spent a great deal of time with Quality Is Free back in the 1980s when I was working on developing training materials for a large freight company.

I have to admit that I haven’t reread any of them recently, and I really should. There’s some good stuff in those books that’s just as important today as it was when they were written.

Deming’s 14 Points for Management , for example, are especially relevant. In fact, in these uncertain economic times I think our political leaders would do well to apply Deming’s thinking to our government. Deming’s exhortation to “drive out fear” strikes me as particularly important. We can’t hope to manage our financial system, automakers, or government through fear or intimidation. We can’t fix mismanagement or bad management by setting unreasonable expectations or demanding change of employees who have to work within a poorly designed process.

How do we tackle those poorly designed processes? Juran has some excellent thoughts on just that in Juran on Quality by Design. It’s always more cost-effective to design processes capable of producing high-quality products and services than it is to correct the process after the fact. Juran reminds us that we can’t fix problems without fixing the process.

Although he was criticized for sometimes being too simplistic, Philip Crosby had a similar message: Why design processes or build products or deliver services with anything less than perfection in mind? This is what Crosby called Zero Defects—a goal that is perhaps unattainable yet serves to keep everyone focused on doing their best.

I’ve only mentioned three books by three of the better-known quality thinkers. Of course, there are dozens of others that should be on every quality professional’s reading list and that should be periodically reread (or at least referenced). I won’t try to make a list of books here, but I will post one on my blog. I’m going to start posting my thoughts on new quality-related and business and economics books there as well.

What are your thoughts on the best quality-related books? What are you reading or rereading? How often do you turn to a trusted reference book for inspiration? Do you share your recommendations with your co-workers? What kind of book would you write? Post your thoughts and your favorite reading lists online at www.qualitycurmudgeon.com.

Discuss

About The Author

Scott Paton’s picture

Scott Paton

Scott Paton is Quality Digest’s editor at large and president of Paton Professional, a provider of books, videos, webinars, and other resources for quality professionals.