I had lunch with my friend Frank today and I asked him his perspective on the Linchpin idea of being an artist and how that fits or conflicts with the ideas taught by Dr. Deming. Frank and I both like Dr. Deming's ideas a lot, so I am trying to set a context that makes sense.
In Linchpin, Seth Godin writes about becoming indispensable at our jobs by becoming more unique. We become more unique by letting the artist in us shine forth in what we do. Godin admits there are times you would not want this, like for airline pilots, etc. However, that specific example caused me to think about Captain Sullenberger who skillfully guided the U.S. Airways jet to a safe landing in the Hudson River. That was artistry. My friend Frank pointed out this was not because of his training from the airline, but because he knew how to fly gliders. Interesting.
In a factory setting, you want people making the same things in the same way. Dr. Deming taught people to remove variations in the process. He taught that processes should be so well defined that anyone with the right training could perform them with identical results. We can apply that in some ways to software development. So, how does one let their artistry shine in that kind of process-oriented environment?
Frank observed that Quality Circles was a technique Dr. Deming taught to let the workers in a process have a voice in improving it. Those people who are good at seeing problems and suggesting changes to the process that save the company money are linchpins and artists. You would not want people to start changing the process whenever or however they want, but you do want to know how to improve the process at the right time, in the right way.
Certainly Dr. Deming valued the person and how they contribute to quality. However, he was not a proponent of surviving by heroic efforts. The problem of heroic efforts is that is rewards those who do sloppy work and then swoop into to fix it, while those who consistently do good work get little recognition.
Unfortunately, too many good people suggest good ideas to management and those ideas are ignored. These people often leave for companies that do value their ideas. They can do that and get more money in the process because they add value. They are linchpins. This applies to leaders as well. Leaders who listen to ideas will rise and succeed, while those who don't will continue to struggle.