W Edwards Deming was a clever soul. Here, you can find out more about what he achieved for the Japanese economy from the 1950s onwards. And whilst he was a clever American soul, recognition for his total contribution to 20th century manufacturing was not, ultimately, terribly forthcoming from his homeland – at least, not in time to save, from one or other of its periodic slumps, what had become a rather lumbering and wasteful US car industry.
Which is why a tweeted train of thought of mine just finished thus:
Do to Western liberal civilisation what the Japanese car industry did to the US in the 1950s & 1960s. Benchmark democracy into renewal.
So what was I going on about? What did I mean by this? Revolution is a dangerous and difficult word. It connotes all kinds of disruption, violence and bloodshed. From the French to the Bolsheviks to the coarsely violent recriminatory ends of the Spanish Civil War, the Balkan Conflict and even our experience with Iraq, revolution has no happy memories for history. At least, for the history they teach us.
Yet I wonder if revolution must always be like that. We could define revolution in a different way. Disruptive, yes – it would have to remain so. But not necessarily unseamless in its implementation. Let us take, for example, as an example too close to hand, the case of the Cyprus haircut. Here, under the guise of financial stability – and, presumably, the European Union’s future continuity – we get a banking fraternity prepared to break the solemnest and most primal capitalist assurances in order to maintain its own sectorial integrity. This is a pretty unhappy development – and is almost certainly a line which, once crossed, will inevitably be crossed again.
Of course, any revolution of the old-style Bolshevik kind would, in a modern world, be almost certainly doomed to failure. Modern society requires complex specialisms to function, and such complex specialisms would almost certainly not happily function under the kind of coercion a traditional revolution would require. Too many tenuous threads of communication would break down under the brute force of full-throated change.
And yet, even so, I find myself coming back to 1950s Japan. Within twenty years of losing a war at the final hands of two nuclear bombs, the Japanese car industry had effected a revolution of its own. Non-violent, intellectual, process-driven and intelligent – all these things and more as per Deming’s philosophies and mindsets.
A revolution of a disruptive nature which, nevertheless, was not bloody.
So how about we took Deming’s approach and applied it to all those systems and sectors a modern democracy and civilisation requires to function decently? And how about we involved citizens in this process from beginning to empowering end? We could design, from the ground upwards, a parallel set of institutions which would, like the design of a Japanese car’s dashboard unit, only ever be included in a new model when entirely ready. In so doing, and through accessible and inclusive techniques such as crowdsourcing – even where this might necessarily involve only the crowdsourced input of a hierarchy of predisposed specialists – we could avoid the biggest danger of disruptive revolution: the non-collaboration of key workers.
In such a way, key workers and process-owners who had crossed the line – and had effectively become criminals too big to jail (the money-laundering cases which have come to light in important banking communities come to mind here) – would no longer be able to hold a wider society to ransom. The gradually more expert revolution-engendering structures would one day not only reach but outdo the efficacy of their corrupted compatriots.
At which point substitution could take place.
It might, of course, even be the case that final substitution would not be necessary: the breathing-down-the-neck nature of such competition could automatically lead to better behaviours in these erstwhile miscreants as per standard free-market forces. But either way, a non-blood-spattered revolution would be engineered; a new democracy would have been benchmarked; another society would have been made.
In a way, 1950s America is pretty analogous to the days we are living: societal dislocation in the recent past; societal dislocation on the horizon. But out of such dislocation, the observant, ingenious and intelligent Japanese were able to recover a semblance of prior glories. And recreate, to an astonishing degree, the whole concept they had of their manufacturing industry.
If the Japanese were able – through the thoughts of one perspicacious man – to create a kind of superpower out of tragic catastrophe, why can’t we contemplate – via some of the same concepts – the idea of creating a better democracy out of current desolation?
After all, there will be few of us able to trust liberal evolution any more.
And, after this weekend, there will be no one able to trust any of these socioeconomic crabs which currently hold sway.
Nor any of their sideways movements.
Creatures which – pincer-like – now make and shake our predictable decay.