Deming's Point Eight

Drive out fear.

♦ Loss resulting from apathy or fear to ask questions or to report trouble costs the system.

♦ "My boss believes in fear.  How can he manage his people if they don't hold him in awe?  Management is punitive..."

♦ No one can put in his or her best performance unless he feels secure.  "Secure" means without fear, not afraid to express ideas, not afraid to ask questions.

♦ The dramatic improvements needed in American organizations require profound knowledge; but some people are afraid of knowledge. New knowledge brought into a company might disclose problems and weaknesses, and someone might have to answer for them.  "A better outlook, of course, is to embrace new knowledge, because it might help us to do a better job."

♦ In an education context, Audette and Algozzine elaborated on Point Eight by observing, "In most of our schools, faculty, students and parents are afraid to speak out or take risks.  Fear of  'being wrong' or 'rocking the boat' has prevented many seminal ideas from being fully developed.  Fear of ridicule, reprimand, and retribution has kept many solutions to our problems from ever being considered.  Fear is essential to supervisors' power in the traditional school."

♦ Over the years I have observed how some people completely miss the point when they consider Deming's teachings and in particular his call to "drive out fear."  They look forward to the day when top management cleans up its act and we end up with a nice, laid-back, pressure-free, copacetic country-club work environment.  Deming's model, however, is not laid back and comfortable; it is characterized by tension.  Consider Point Five, "Constantly and forever improve every process..."  Springs are coiled throughout the organization, ready to spring out at any and every opportunity for improvement – and it never ends; the pressure never lets up!

♦ Fear, on the other hand, is dysfunctional tension.  It is the type of tension that leads people not to ask questions – because there's such a thing as a stupid question here; that leads them not to ask for help – out of fear that it will be interpreted as an admission of incompetence; not to point out trouble – out of fear that they will be blamed for the problem.

During my own seminars, I always talk about the inverse of fear by using a phrase that I heard Dr. Deming use repeatedly; i.e., "He who enjoys his work is a joy to work with."  I ask people if they've ever had a co-worker who really enjoyed his or her work.  I add, "What was it like?"  Among the more common responses are "uplifting, energizing, contagious."  I then ask if they've ever worked with someone who did not enjoy their work.  "What was it like?"  Replies: "draining, stressful, infectious, it really sucks."


R. Audette and R. Algozzine, "Free and Appropriate Education for All Students: Total Quality and the Transformation of Public Education," Remedial and Special Education, Vol. 13, No. 6, Nov. 1992, PRO-ED, Inc. (1992), pp. 8-18.

W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis, MIT Center for Advanced Engineering Study, Cambridge, MA (1986), pp. 59-61.

J. F. Leonard, The New Philosophy for K-12 Education: A Deming Framework for Transforming America's Schools, ASQ Quality Press, Milwaukee, WI (1996), p. 207.

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