Geocaching to Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge

Once you’re great at driving change, I bet people watching you will say you’re:

  • setting an example,
  • being a good listener, but not compromising on your values,
  • continually teaching other people, and
  • helping people pull away from their current practice and beliefs and move into the new philosophy without a feeling of guilt about the past.

W. Edwards Deming defined someone with these characteristics as a person transformed; a person who had achieved a place in a system of profound knowledge.

Captain Ralph Soule wrote up an excellent excerpt of Deming’s system description, cutting together vital definitions to make the abstract concepts hang together in one post.

If you don’t know Deming, read Soule’s post before continuing or the rest of this post likely won’t make as much sense as it could.

Deming describes his system of profound knowledge–his end point–in vivid detail.

He says,

A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside…It provides a map of theory by which to understand the organizations that we work in.

He’s telling us we’ll know when we’re at the end point because, like acquiring the capability to zoom in on our house with Google maps, we’ll have a lens to give us a vantage point to peer down on the system we reside in.

Imagine the change you could drive in your system, your organization, if you could see that type of map of your organization!

To get to this system of profound knowledge what travel advice does Deming offer?

In saying, “the transformation is discontinuous,” Deming tells us what type of journey it will be but says nothing about where we’ll go along the way.

He goes on to discuss what knowledge we must pick up along the way.  He breaks the knowledge into four areas:

  • Appreciation of a system
  • Knowledge about variation
  • Theory of knowledge
  • Psychology

I picture a hiker running around picking up colored rocks, small pieces of knowledge from the four areas. I can see the hiker throwing the rocks into a pack.   Merged with Deming’s statement that:

The various segments of the system of profound knowledge proposed here can not be separated. They interact with each other.

Deming suggests the journey to the system of profound knowledge is less a journey and more of a treasure hunt.

If it is a treasure hunt, how do you know when your treasure hunt is done?

I think Deming’s answer to that question is, “You just know you’re done because you’re there.”

I wonder how many frustrated treasure hunters gave up the hunt rather than continue collecting rocks, never knowing how close they were to winning.  You’ll know you’re there when you’re there is a useless answer.

Deming and his system of profound knowledge endures because it captures the mechanisms controlling our organizations.  And while his conclusions are true, his advice is ineffective at getting people to the place where they can knowingly share in, and act on, his conclusions.

So the struggle is: How can anyone get more people from where they are to Deming’s system of profound knowledge?

I see a way if we move the advice from action (i.e., encouraging people to do lots of things) to actionable (i.e., specific enough advice to guarantee the person will get the outcome you want).

To bring actionable order to Deming’s advice, I’ve re-framed the treasure hunt into a geocache, specifically a serial/parallel hybrid multi-cache.  A geocache is often a small container of trinkets, hidden in a wooden area or part, that once placed relies on the billions of dollars of satellite technology to feed data to a hand-held global positioning system (GPS) so someone else can find the geocache and sign the log saying they’ve been there.

[Bird Walk: If you haven’t tried geocaching, especially with kids, you really should!]

Why do I think I’m capable to lay out the multi-cache to get you to the system of profound knowledge?

A few reasons, not in priority order:

1.  Because I have the accumulated knowledge of man to use to guide me (that’s my billions of dollars of equipment). I’m not saying I know all the accumulated knowledge of man. I’m saying I know the answer is out there when I need it, to give me a heading even in a mental fog.

2.  Because I’ve practice for years to detect where I’m at in a system or in the definition of a system and determine my position relative to the system and to the accumulated knowledge of man (that’s my internal GPS).   Just like a regular GPS some days my error reading is smaller than others, so I take what the instrument gives me and soldier on.

3.  Because I’m living in the system of profound knowledge, so it’s easy for me to stash a cache here for you to find.  How do I know I’m really there?  I reason that without the system of profound knowledge, I couldn’t have drawn this map.

[Bird Walk: If this blog were a sitcom, I guess this would be the origin story episode.]

If you were wondering why I spend my nights writing this blog, it’s because this blog is my method:

  • to pull out the cache points from my head;
  • to catalog the important steps on my journey;
  • to test whether the knowledge I gained in parallel or in series must come in parallel or in series (as an engineer I love resolving those questions); and
  • to offer all of those ideas up to you in a way where one day you’ll join me in Deming’s system of profound knowledge.

We’ll see how I do with this task I’ve chosen for myself.  Thanks for coming with me on this journey.

[Remember: Feel free to heckle me at any time.  I crave the feedback!]

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