EXPLORATIONS - July 17, 2002: W.
By Gayle Shiraki
This is Steve Ember.
And this is Shirley Griffith with the VOA Special English program, EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about an American who was better known in Japan than in the United States. W. Edwards Deming was responsible for shaping the industrial rebirth of Japan following World War Two.
W. Edwards Deming was born in the state of Iowa in nineteen-hundred. His family soon moved to a small town in Wyoming. His family was very poor. As a child, he earned money for his family by working after school carrying wood and coal to a nearby hotel.
This early experience had a lasting effect. It reportedly gave Mister Deming a deep sympathy for poor people and a bitter hatred of waste.
Mister Deming said that his parents believed in the importance of education, although his family did not have very much money. He was able to attend the University of Wyoming where he studied engineering. He earned a Masters' degree in mathematics and physics from the University of Colorado. He received a doctorate in physics from Yale University in nineteen-twenty-eight.
After he graduated from Yale, Mister Deming worked as a federal government employee in Washington for several years. He later joined the Census Bureau as its chief mathmetician. He developed many new methods for collecting information about the population of the United States.
In nineteen-forty-seven, he was sent to Japan to help with population studies there. Japan was governed by an occupying force led by American General Douglas MacArthur in the first years after World War Two. One of General MacArthur's goals was to rebuild Japanese industry.
Mister Deming already was recognized for his knowledge about the operation of companies. During the war, he had developed a plan to train American engineers in ideas needed to improve production.
Japanese industrial leaders were especially interested in learning his ideas. They knew that Japan lacked many natural resources. They believed that their country would be successful only if Japanese companies could sell goods on world markets. So, they invited Mister Deming to teach them his methods to produce the best-made goods possible.
In nineteen-fifty, Mister Deming taught for eight days in Japan. Eighty percent of Japan's top business and industrial leaders attended the classes. He told them that they could do a better job than American companies if they would try to fill the demands of people who buy their products. He discussed ways to produce goods that would not break or wear out easily. His main ideas became known as methods of quality control.
In general, W Edwards Deming believed that managers who supervised workers -- and not the workers -- were responsible for most production problems. He said effective managers should spend most of their time setting goals for the company. He said managers should communicate with their workers. And he said cooperation, not competition, was important in a company.
Mister Deming rejected the idea of using inspectors to judge the work of company employees. He denounced company rules that set production limits for workers. He also criticized the system of giving workers money awards.
Mister Deming argued that the real secret to producing better goods is to depend on workers to do the job correctly the first time. He often said people have the right to enjoy their work and feel that they have control over their job. He believed that people do their best work when they are urged to use their minds and their skills on the job.
Mister Deming believed that another important goal for any company is to work to reduce waste. Motions by a worker that do not add value to the final product are waste, he said. So are supplies that companies do not use for long periods of time.
Mister Deming also was known for his money-saving methods in his personal life. One of his daughters says he would write dates on eggs in the refrigerator. He was sure then that the oldest egg would be eaten first. No egg would be wasted!
Japanese companies closely followed Mister Deming's advice about industrial management. In about twenty years, products made by Japanese companies easily beat their competition in international markets. For example, Japanese companies, like Sony and Panasonic, almost forced American television and radio industries out of business. At about the same time, Japanese car companies captured huge markets once led by the American automobile industry.
After Mister Deming's first trip to Japan, the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers collected his notes. They published the ideas as a book named, "Elementary Principles of the Statistical Control of Quality."
Mister Deming refused to accept any money earned from the book. Instead, he suggested that the money be used to support efforts aimed at improving production. So the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers created the Deming Prize. It rewards companies that produce some of the best designed goods. The award became one of the most highly sought prizes by Japanese companies. Yet, the man recognized for leading Japan's industrial revolution remained almost unknown in the United States.
By nineteen-eighty, American industries were in trouble. Japanese products continued to be leading sellers in all major markets.
American managers sought to find ways to compete with Japanese companies. They finally began to notice W. Edwards Deming.
The Ford Motor Company was one of the first large American companies to seek help from Mister Deming. Ford officials asked him to visit their headquarters in Michigan in nineteen-eighty-one. The company's sales were falling. Ford was losing hundreds of millions of dollars.
Ford officials were expecting to learn quick new ways to improve their cars. Mister Deming, instead, began questioning the company's culture and the way its managers operated. He told the officials that management actions are responsible for eighty-five percent of all problems in developing better cars.
Ford officials followed his advice. In a few years, Ford Motor Company led the American automobile industry in improvements.
As the success of Ford Motor Company grew, demand for Mister Deming's services increased. He worked only with a small number of companies. He also refused to provide advice for companies that did not let him meet with their top officials. He said that the only way to bring about change was to have direct meetings with top-level company managers.
Companies that followed Mister Deming's methods often found that they had to change the way they operated. For example, separate parking spaces and dining rooms for company officials were taken away. Factory workers thought that special treatment for managers was unfair. The move helped show workers that managers really did want to work with them as equals.
W. Edwards Deming continued to give educational speeches to managers until shortly before his death In Nineteen-Ninety-Three. He was ninety-three years old.
In recent years, many American businessmen and managers were influenced by Mister Deming's theories. Former President Bill Clinton said the theories of W. Edwards Deming led to the effort to reinvent government in the nineteen-nineties.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said Mister Deming's advice resulted not just in better goods and services, but in better lives for millions of people.
Business experts say W. Edwards Deming's ideas about business should continue to find new life in companies throughout the world.
This Special English program was written by Gayle Shiraki and directed by Cynthia Kirk. This is Shirley Griffith.
And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.