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Hi Professor Sutton,

Interesting quote! I'd like to suggest a short modification to the notion of knowledge without action.

In a large company, I don't think its uncommon that there are people who figure out "what to do" and entirely different people actually go do it.

I think the problem comes when the people are in roles to figure out "what to do" either:
1) pull "what to do" out of thin air, i.e. non evidence-based
2) are declared successful for simply putting the PowerPoint slide together and delivering a "smart" presentation.

Its okay if the idea proposers don't do what they propose, but they should still be accountable for the proposed idea being acted on and for the outcome of those actions.

I think one of the complications that disables organizations from implementing this accountability is the complexity of uniquely identifying functional contributions. To use an analogy, in a football game, lets say a bad pass is made - it might not always be 100% clear if it was the fault of the quarterback or the receiver. Likewise, if a business initiative fails, it might not be 100% clear whether it was the idea proposer or idea executer(s) who were at fault.

One way that organizations try to address this complexity is by setting up hierarchical verification. So when the execution phase of an idea completes, you have an independent quality assurance team that verifies if the idea was executed per the specification of the idea proposal. If QA verifies that it did, now the accountability for success is totally on the proposer. If QA does not verify, then the accountability is on the executor.

This is one potential method for ensuring that the ideas that are proposed and executed are both done with great quality.


Bob - in the bio of Demming may I point out one of the critical if often over-looked aspects of his background - he was a "Cowboy Joe" from U. of Wyo ! :) There's some truth to that that though inasmuch as a the culture influenced his approach.
The more interesting thing is that his contributions came as a staff member of the Occupying Powers in Japan while he was ignored in his own country. If you saw the recent WSJ story on what Mullaly is doing to turn around Ford it has special poignancy because Nasser the Knife killed all the Deming-like initiatives in favor of fluff in the late '90s and the heart of Mullaly's turn-around is systematic and systemic management systems; i.e. a Deming-like approach. Should we mention he too is from a values-centered part of the country ? If people don't think this is all critically important they might be interested in Tim Walker's recent summary of BCG work that finds that many/most companies aren't adjusting to this crisis at all:

Gregory Y

"knowledge without action is just as bad as no knowledge at all" - I think it is not as bad - it is worse. If there is no knowledge there is at least an excuse of ignorance. Depending on a context, knowledge without action can be borderline irresponsible.

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