“Experience by itself teaches nothing… Without theory, experience has no meaning. Without theory, one has no questions to ask. Hence, without theory, there is no learning.” – W. Edwards Deming
Is there a place for theory in everyday business? It is not uncommon to hear complaints about people who are too theoretical and not practical enough to get things done. For whatever reason, we have come to believe that “doing real work” is what matters and that theory has no place in real work.
Very few people would argue with the idea that learning is critical to the success of a business. But what is not widely understood is that learning requires theory. If there is no theory behind an action, there is nothing with which to compare results and drive improvement. People will either keep doing the same thing or randomly change regardless of the type of results achieve.
The Learning Organization & Standardized Work
In organizations where learning is truly a competitive advantage, people understand that all actions are based on theories that require continual adjustment. They realize that improvement results from a conscious connection between theory and practice, and that one without the other is meaningless. They coach people to understand the connections and use even the smallest problems as impetuses to change.
Connecting action to theory is the basis of standardized work. Inherent in standardized work is the theory is that performing work in the manner described will produce desirable results. When a problem occurs in practice, the standard – or the theory – needs to be changed.
We’ve all dealt with people who continue to do something the same way even though it doesn’t seem to work. One has to wonder whether this results from a lack of willingness to change or a lack of understanding of the theory behind actions. This is much more understandable if the organization’s leaders don’t value theory. And the situation won’t change until the leaders realize that, without consciously understanding the theory behind their actions, they will have little success in driving continual improvement across the organization.