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Week 51, 2021—Issue #183

Reading Notes V: Smith on Becoming, McGregor on Attribution, and Deming on Proportions

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Each week: three ideas on the future of work and organization. This week, those ideas serve to remind us that “people problems” are neither problems nor about people — they are opportunities to improve our management models

Let’s dig in.

1. Smith on Becoming

“The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations…generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.” — Adam Smith

Adam Smith is considered to be the father of modern economics. You’ll know him as the author of his 1776 opus “The Wealth of Nations”.

2. McGregor on Attribution

“The engineer does not blame water for flowing downhill…However, when people respond to managerial decisions in undesired ways, the normal response is to blame them.” — Douglas McGregor

Douglas McGregor was a management thinker at MIT and Antioch. He’s most famous for his book “The Human Side of Enterprise” published in 1960.

3. Deming on Proportions

[I]n my experience most troubles…add up to the proportions something like this: 94% belongs to the system (responsibility of management), 6% [to people]” — Edward Deming

Deming is known as the father of quality management and continuous improvement. He’s the author of multiple books, including “Out of Crisis”.

Smith’s message is that people become products of their environment. We know this to be true, I think. And yet when it comes to management, we seem unable to break away from the attribution error that McGregor talks about. We point fingers and “blame water for flowing downhill.” But as Deming points out, that’s neither accurate nor helpful. Most ‘people problems’ aren’t about people at all — they’re symptoms of systems and processes embedded in our organizations.

That’s all for this week.
Until next time: Make it matter.

PS. See Issue #79 for an approach to organizational change and transformation that I think Deming, McGregor, and Smith might approve of.



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