Collectivist societies, Deming, and Agile development

I just read an op-ed in the NYT by David Brooks called Harmony and the Dream. He talks about collectivist vs individualist cultures. He suggests that the USA, as the most individualistic country, has a lot to learn from collectivist Asian societies.

This made me think of W. Edwards Deming, the American who helped reorganize Japanese industry after WWII. In this country Deming is mostly known for teaching statistical quality control methods, to be used in manufacturing. But Deming was not just a statistician — he viewed corporations as integrated systems, made up of a dense mesh of relationships between employees, management, suppliers, customers, and even competitors. He encouraged corporate culture that stressed these inter-dependencies and lines of communication, where every employee was aware of, and to some degree responsible for, the larger system around them. It was very collectivist, and it worked very well in Japan.

It also made me think of Agile software development, which is a set of techniques that acknowledge how unpredictable software development (or any creative business process) can be. Agile techniques emphasize openness, communication, and group awareness to keep the process flexible, efficient, and satisfying.

The Biggest Ideas Ever

I wrote a short essay called The Biggest Ideas Ever about the most important inventions and innovations in history. It’s an easy subject, perfect for a late night ramble. It appears in the essays section.