We sat down with Ed Baker, author of The Symphony of Profound Knowledge, to talk about the motivation behind writing his latest book, including what he says was the most challenging and rewarding part of the process.
“This book provides a framework to think differently about organizations, in contrast to what business schools teach,” Ed tells us. “Living is viewed as a whole system with interrelated, interdependent processes rather than separate parts.”The framework used with the book derives from W. Edward’s Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge. “It can lead to a transformation of an individual’s mental map, which can produce improved human relationships, joy in work, and joy in living.”
Ed has consulted with a variety of organizations in both business and government to help them develop their capability to shape a better future through application of Dr. Deming’s theories, principles, and methods. His work alongside Dr. Deming started while at the Ford Motor Company, where he orchestrated Dr. Deming’s interaction with the company, as well as the development and application of standards and methods to improve quality and strengthen competitive position.
Throughout his time there, he assisted Dr. Deming in more than seventy public and private seminars. Ed has also served as a trustee of the W. Edwards Deming Institute and has been an Aspen Institute senior fellow. He is a fellow of the American Society for Quality, which honored him with the Deming Medal and the Ishikawa Medal.
Here’s a look at a condensed version of our Q&A with Ed about The Symphony of Profound Knowledge.
Q: What is the content of the book based on?
Ed Baker: The book is based on the character and teaching of Dr. Deming who was a moral philosopher, prophet, virtuoso, and sage with profound insights into the management of organizations and the art of leadership and living.
The book is grounded in his leadership principles, concepts, and theories as well as those of other system thinkers and philosophers concerned with productive and meaningful human relationships within organizations and within society as a whole. Managers who are frustrated that their organizations don’t seem to be producing desired performance can gain new insights about how their management systems could be transformed.
Q: Who can benefit from this book?
Ed Baker: Leaders and managers of all types of organizations from business, education, government, health care, and other enterprises. The book also aims to help individuals make daily living more understandable by seeing events in the context of the big picture. By learning to look at a whole-system view of events, it can help any individual lead a more fulfilling and joyful life.
Q: That leads to our next question: how did your relationship with Dr. Deming lead to this book?
Ed Baker: I had a 13 year association with Dr. Deming. He had asked me many years ago to write a book about his teaching that represented my perspective. I told him that I would simply be repeating what I learned from him.
However, now, more than 20 years after his passing, and reflecting on my ‘Baker’s dozen’ years with him, I want to share my perspective with others. I believe that his teaching is necessary for the leadership of organizations and for leading one’s own life.
Q: Dr. Deming’s timeless teachings have been, and will continue to be, a driving influence at Aileron. For someone who is unfamiliar with Dr. Deming and his work, can you share what else they should know about him, from your perspective in having worked with him?
Ed Baker: He was a visionary who saw the errors of practice in business, education, and government. [He saw that] management, first and foremost, was management of people, not accounting numbers. Common management practices were costly, in terms of profit, learning, and the human heart.
To spend time with him, he was [an] amazing human being, so generous and knowledgeable and a genius, and very modest.
Q: In the book, you assert how Dr. Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge can be thought of as analogous to a musical score for a symphony. How did you arrive at that analogy to structure the book?
Ed Baker: Dr. Deming was a musician and a composer. He often used analogies to an accomplished symphony orchestra to make his point about managing and organization as a system. I wanted to expand that idea.
The book is structured as a symphony with four movements, each movement being a component of his System of Profound Knowledge: Appreciation for a System; Theory of Knowledge; Knowledge of Variation; Knowledge of Psychology…Putting it into a context of his musical background and interests, I thought that would be a recognition of his contribution to frame it that way.
Q: You bring up an example in the book from your friend, Tom O’Connell, a PGA golf professional, who put wholeness into a context that might be familiar to many readers. Can you share that story?
Excellent performance in golf requires the interaction, the cooperation, of all the components of the human and physical processes that produce performance, e.g., the interaction of the golfer’s physiological and psychological processes and their interaction with the larger physical environment including the terrain and the tools—the golf clubs.
If performance is poor, evaluate the components system such as training, golf clubs, psychology, and how they interact.
And serious golfers are continually learning. They are able to experience that wonderful high, that magical feeling that comes when the swinging motion is a unified whole. Everything is just right, synchronized, working together. There are no separate parts—no shoulders, arms, hands, hips, legs, or feet. They all interact as one to accomplish the purpose of the activity, which is to propel the ball to the target. The hands don’t try to dominate the feet. The arm swing doesn’t dominate the body rotation. The eyes don’t look wherever they please.
Each part of the body that contributes to the purposeful action of swinging the golf club interacts harmoniously with the other parts and with the golf club in order to perform properly. It is as if the body as a whole knows what to do…
Golfers cannot improve their game unless they learn an appropriate model and then practice, continually learning to apply that model until a better one comes along. It is relatively easy to appreciate the fact that wholeness makes possible exceptional performance in golf and in the performing arts. It may not be as easy to appreciate this for other aspects of managing and living.
Q: What should leaders know about the failure to understand variation in our everyday lives?
Ed Baker: Realize business should not be separated from the rest of your life—one affects the other. That’s why it’s a book about whole system. I think it’s the responsibility of people that want to be leaders to recognize that. Remember that management first of all is a management of people, not the management of numbers.
Some resist Dr. Deming’s [principles because it would require] change in the way of behaving and managing that got them to their current successful positions. They shouldn’t be too resistant to these ideas.
Q: Today, is there one of Dr. Deming’s 14 Points that resonates the most with you?
Ed Baker: This is hard to do since the 14 points are related; however, two points that must be addressed are: Number 9, Break down barriers between departments. People within an organization should not be competing with each other for rewards and recognition. Knowledge and information should be shared. This is especially true in government.
Then, Number 10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets. They are barriers to cooperation (refer to Number 9), and promote extrinsic motivation and internal competition.
Q: What was the most challenging part about writing the book?
Ed Baker: Organizing the parts to present them as movements of a symphony. As mentioned, Dr. Deming liked to use a symphony orchestra to illustrate the cooperation among players needed to produce a high quality result. The job of the orchestra leader is to blend the players into one whole so that they play in concert.
Q: And what was the the most fun or rewarding part of the process?
Ed Baker: It was fun because Dr. Deming was a composer and a musician and I believed he would have liked this approach. It was rewarding when some members of his family said about the book, ‘You nailed it.’
Take Your Leadership—And Your Organization—To the Next Level
“As we each read this book, it is interesting to note that while we are all in different phases of life, with different interests and immediate concerns, the teachings and philosophy apply evenly and very powerfully.” —Diana Deming Cahill, Linda Deming Ratcliff, Kevin Edwards Cahill, and John Vincent Cahill, founding trustees, the W. Edwards Deming Institute
Bring your organization (back) to economic health, and individuals to spiritual and psychological health by attaining joy in your daily work. Ed Baker’s The Symphony of Profound Knowledge will help you gain a greater understanding of Deming philosophy and—just as important—how to apply those concepts throughout your life.