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Things Deming and Others Never Said

by Steve Gompertz, QRx Partners

Quotes by Presidents
Abraham Lincoln Mis-Quotes

We’re going in a different direction for this month’s blog article, by focusing on more of a “soft” skill that can impact your perceived professionalism, expertise, and credibility. We’re all fond of strengthening a point with a good quote by someone everyone views as an expert. Unfortunately, in this age of hyper-speed social, and professional, media posts, fact-checking often takes a back seat to groupthink, i.e. – sounds logical, so it must be right. As a result, numerous words of wisdom are incorrectly attributed to recognized smart people and often misstated.

These misquotes often get traction because they sound like concise nuggets of brilliance that we imagine wise people would say. However, the reality is that these “gods” of knowledge are usually much more verbose. If one were a student of their work, it would become obvious that their writing styles are much different than their supposed quotes.

So, what’s the harm?

Famous People Mis-Quotes
Albert Einstein Quotes

First is potentially falsely elevating a concept's importance or correctness based on the supposed source's reputation. In this case, the misquoted concept may be overly simplified so that the real lessons and value are diminished. Second, and of more concern, is that the restatement is flat-out incorrect. As noted in one of the examples below of a quote that many Quality professionals have loved for decades, it’s the opposite of what the expert said. Yet, everyone applies it as if it’s gospel.

So, let’s take a look at some very well-known quotes.

Famous People Mis-Quotes
William Deming Quotes

“In God we trust, all others must bring data.”W. Edwards Deming

Nope, not Deming. This one was just the title of a chapter in a book about Deming's methods but was never attributed to him.

Famous People Mis-Quotes
William Deming Quotes

"Without data, you're just another person with an opinion." - W. Edwards Deming

Again, not Deming. He was never this sarcastic in his writing. However, it is based on something else that he wrote.

"Where there is fear, you do not get honest figures." Per usual, Deming was expressing concerns with leadership rather than blaming the employees. There's a big difference.

"If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got."

That is one of my favorites, and is similar to, "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity." Sorry, neither Einstein, Tony Robbins, or Henry Ford said either of these quotes.

Dr. Jessie Potter
Quotes by Famous Women

This quote should actually be accredited to the little-known Dr. Jessie Potter, a family relationships counselor in the 1980's.

The definition of insanity quote, in reality, comes from the twelve-step teachings of such organizations as Alcoholics Anonymous, and the author is unknown.

Regardless, both hold true as excellent advice.

"What gets measured, gets improved." - Peter Drucker, Joseph Juran, Lord Kelvin, Deming, etc.

Famous People Mis-Quotes
Quotes by Peter Drucker

This is a dangerous one and is often stated as "You can't improve what you don't measure." None of the people this is usually attributed to actually said it.

What's worse? This statement is completely wrong. In reality, Deming said the complete opposite; "It is wrong to suppose that if you can't measure it, you can't manage it - a costly myth".

That's a big difference.

The way in which it is usually quoted implies that "analysis paralysis" is a good thing. However, Deming was trying to say that one does not need to over-analyze things in order to make improvements.

"Quality is not an act, it is a habit." - Aristotle

Famous People Mis-Quotes

Let's all recall that Aristotle was a Greek Philosopher. Does this really sound like something taken from ancient Greek writings?

Aristotle's writings tended to be much deeper.

This quote actually belongs to Will Durant, an American historian and philosopher, and in it's entirety reads, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit". This is written in his literature where he was trying to explain and condense several of Aristotle's thoughts on morality.

"Quality is everyone's responsibility." - Deming

Seriously, did Deming ever say anything so succinctly? Nope.

His actual quote was, "Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody's job".

That sounds more like Deming - always focusing on the bigger picture. He didn't write posters for companies to post in their lunchrooms, and he actually disliked slogans.

Famous People Mis-Quotes
Mark Twain

So while sharing good advice can be beneficial, we must be cognizant of whether we fully understand the context and the true source.

The quote having been accredited to Lincoln, Twain, or Confucius - "It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it" - wasn't said by any of them. This was in effect, spoken by Maurice Switzer, a relatively unknown figure in Communications from Ontario. But few know who he is, so citing him with this quote is less interesting.

We often point out that the regulated medical technology space is no place for hobbyists who too often make broad assumptions based on information from poor sources, similar to re-quoting without fact-checking.

QRxPartners are ready to help your organization get past the hobbyist level. Contact us at or call 833-779-7278. Follow us on LinkedIn @QRxPartners for more industry information, education, and commentary.

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