It's All Greek to Me: Business, Industry, and the Scientific Method

by Dr. Gordon D. Booth

The "Virtues" of Going It Alone

Some of the early Greek philosophers believed that the most powerful analyses that can be performed by humans is accomplished by isolating themselves from the observable world around them and using pure intellect to solve problems. These ideas persisted over many centuries and it was not until the renaissance that observation of the world's phenomena was considered respectable among intellectuals.

A great step forward was taken when Gregor Mendel conducted systematic experiments of plant breeding. He carefully collected data and performed meaningful analyses of that data. Many others followed and today, among scientists, the careful collection and interpretation of data is considered the only efficient and effective approach to science. The body of scientific knowledge has increased exponentially due to this approach which has become known as the "Scientific Method."

Making Decisions

Just as the ancient philosophers would sit among themselves and rely upon their own thoughts to guide them in arriving at "knowledge," today many industrial decision makers sit around tables in countless conference rooms and use their own intellect (and sometimes their experiences) to make decisions. While some people may make a few good decisions this way, it is rare to find someone who can do so consistently over even a modest period of time. Instead, the most effective decision makers use appropriately obtained data that is pertinent to the problem at hand and they make a correct interpretation of the data by using appropriate methods.

A Simple Method that Works

This process is really nothing more than the scientific method applied to a business/industrial environment. In 1950 (almost 50 years ago) Deming went to Japan and taught their business and industrial leaders to use the PDCA cycle. This cycle, though talked about a lot less these days, is still as useful as it ever was and will carry an organization a long way toward solving their problems. Plan, Do, Check, and Act is a straightforward, simple process that leads its users to powerful and practical decisions. It is not outdated, even though there are many new "methods" put forward every year. This is just another example of the old adage, "Truth is truth, wherever it may be."

Far too many have forgotten (or perhaps never really tried) PDCA. If one is careful not to skip steps--a real temptation--progress is almost assured. We could all benefit by digging out some of our books on quality and reviewing this powerful, yet simple, too.