The Red Bead Experiment with John Dyer

The Red Bead Experiment with John Dyer

by Patrick Adams | Aug 22, 2023


In this episode, John Dyer and I explore the insights gleaned from Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s “Red Bead Experiment,” the efficacy of hands-on visual teaching, and insights from “The Leadership Experiment.”

What You’ll Learn:

  1. Dr. W. Edwards Deming performed the “Red Bead Experiment” in many of his classes. What were some of the lessons he was trying to share with his audience? 
  2. What is the power behind using a hands-on, visual teaching technique, such as the Red Beads, to teach a difficult lesson? 
  3. I understand that you have been developing an activity called “The Leadership Experiment.” Can you describe what this activity is all about? 
  4. What are some of the lessons learned? 
  5. Can you share with our audience an idea you are working on regarding a Lean, team based process improvement competition that we may try and implement in 2024?

About the Guest:  John Dyer is an author, coach, and trainer with 39 years of experience in the field of improving processes. His recently published book “the Façade of Excellence; Defining a New Normal of Leadership” examines the four leadership styles required to move an organization’s culture to one of trust, collaboration, and teamwork. John started his career with General Electric and then worked his way up to a Corporate V.P. of Global Improvement at Ingersoll-Rand before starting his own consulting company. He has had the opportunity to study with several leaders in the continuous improvement field such as Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Brian Joiner, and Stephen Covey.


Click here for more information on “The Façade of Excellence”

⁠Click here for The Lean Solutions Summit 

Click here for registration and ticket information



Patrick Adams  00:00

Hello and welcome to the Lean solutions podcast. My returning guest today is John Dyer. John is an author, Coach and Trainer with 39 years of experience in the field of improving processes. John is the author of the book The facade of excellence, defining a new normal of leadership, where he examines the four leadership styles required to move an organization’s culture to one of trust, collaboration, and teamwork. John started his career with General Electric and then worked his way up to a corporate VP of global global improvement for the organization before starting his own consulting company, which he now consults for many different organizations in many different areas. But he had the opportunity to study with several leaders over his career in the continuous improvement field, such as Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Brian joiner and Steven Covey. Welcome back to the show, John.


John Dyer  01:27

Thank you, Patrick, for having me. I I enjoy these podcasts with you.


Patrick Adams  01:32

Yeah, absolutely. I’m super excited to have you on because we’re getting very close to the Lean Solution Summit, where you will be one of our speakers. That will be leading, you’ll be leading a couple of different workshops. Actually, I want to give a little teaser today, for those that are listening in on a few of those workshops that you’ve been leading. And probably one of my most favorite is the red bead experiment, which, you know, I’ve been I’ve been involved with in the past, I’ve facilitated it myself. But you have something special that you bring to the table. And that is the fact that you actually were part of the workshop, the red bead experiment, led by Dr. Deming himself, is that correct?


John Dyer  02:17

Yeah, you know, early in my GE career, I got the opportunity to go into one of those dream jobs where they asked me to travel the country and collect best practices is it related to team based improvement. So this is back before lean was even known or, or Six Sigma TQM was just really just getting off the ground total quality management. So I got the opportunity to go spend time with Dr. Deming actually got to go to several of his classes. And I got to see him do the red bead experiment twice. And the second time, I actually wrote down every word he said, you know, this was back before cellphones and video and all that. So in order to capture as much as I could the essence of the experiment, I wrote it all down, actually, I found this in my bookcase. Hold it up to the camera. Notes, pages and pages and pages of notes of when he did it. And what I tried to capture with some of his humor, too. You know, Dr. Deming was a professor of statistics. And when I saw him, he was 90 years old, leading, you know, a four day class almost entirely on his own for 750 participants. And like I said, that was the second time I saw him do it. And I was like, you know, this is a special event. And I wanted to make sure I captured it the best that I could. And I’ve now done the red bead experiment. Many, many times all around the world. Yeah, it’s, there’s a still a lot of learning. Yeah. And through that.


Patrick Adams  04:12

Oh, absolutely. And so I’m curious if you could I know that during the workshop at the Lean Solution Summit, you’ll be walking through, you know, in detail all of the different lessons. And actually, those participants will be experiencing the red bead experiment as part of that with some of Dr. Demings lessons and with some of his humor as well, which I know you share. But could you just share with our audience, maybe some of the lessons that that he specifically wanted them to hear when they went through the red bead experiment?


John Dyer  04:45

Right, you know, at General Electric, I actually had the opportunity to go through their manufacturing management program for two years, right, where they taught us all of the GE ways of managing people And then, a few years after graduating from that program, I had several rich people reporting to me and, and I had already gone through some additional management training with GE. And that’s when I started getting interested in this whole idea of teamwork building teams, that sort of thing. And that’s when I got to go meet Dr. Deming. And I tell you, when you look at a lot of Dr. Demings teachings at that time, they were radical, compared to what most corporations were doing. And, you know, he put out his 14 points of, of management. And I remember taking those 14 points to a group of GE executives and sitting down with them, and going through all 14 points, and asking the question, which of the you know, how many of these 14 points are relevant to General Electric, and you gotta remember, this is in the early 1990s, they could only agree on one of them as being relevant. But fast forward to today, and there are still some points on the list that would still be considered radical. And the red bead experiment, kind of helps explain why those points need to be taken seriously, even though they are 180 degrees counter to what most corporations do even today. So I’ll give you an example. Point number 11. is to eliminate numerical quotas, and eliminate numerical goals for management. That’s, you know, even to today. That’s radical. Another one, point number 12. Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship, and eliminate the angle rating and merit system. Think how many companies still do annual ratings of all their employees? Now, you know, again, I get pushback on this all the time is like, Well, wait a minute. How could we possibly eliminate our annual rating? How do we know which employees did well in which you get raises in which should get promotions. But when you go through the red bead experiment, you start to realize that many of the successes or failures of our employees are directly tied to the number of red beads they encounter in the system that management has designed to give them. Right. So you may have your best employee encounter several red beads. And by red beads, we’re talking about, you know, breakdowns, failures, quality issues, problems. And they may on paper look like they’re doing awful. Because they’ve encountered so many red beads, just by happenstance. So in in a way you may be, you know, really tearing down your best employee and not giving them a raise, which gets them frustrated, and they may leave the company. And then you put someone new in that role. And they do just as bad because they’re still those red beads in the system. Right. Now, one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Deming was a bad system will be a good person every time and that’s really the main focus of the red bead experiment.


Patrick Adams  08:53

Right. So true. Yeah. And I use that quote a lot myself as well, because I see it so often. You know, people don’t I like to say, people don’t come to work, you know, wanting to sabotage the job, they don’t come to work wanting to do a bad job, they come to work and they want to do a good job. They’re trying their best to to give their best at work. It’s unfortunate, but many are working in broken systems. And so as leaders as managers, it’s our job to figure out how to help them be successful.


John Dyer  09:28

And it’s exactly right. And sometimes, you know, we’ll encounter those employees that are gruff and negative and, and you think, man, you know, what are they still doing here? And then you start to realize that it’s because of years of being neglected of poor communications, lack of trust, a poorly designed system, and sometimes when you really sit down with that person and ask them, you know, what would you do? difference, they’ll have a lot of really good ideas. And then you’re like, Well, why haven’t you share those? And it’ll be like, Oh, I’ve tried sharing those many, many times, and no one will will listen. And you’re like, Whoa, no wonder you’re a negative person, because you’ve been put in a position of failure. Versus, again, Dr. Deming talked about this a lot. How do you develop that sense of pride of workmanship? Well, the only way to do that is to form teams, get the inputs from the employees, get them engaged, let them take ownership, and then address those red beads one at a time knocking them out, knocking them out, knocking them out until finally you get a system. That is, you know, knocking it out of the park every day. And then all of a sudden, employees feel good about coming to work, because now all of a sudden, those issues have gone away. And they don’t worry about am I going to get, you know, blasted today from my leaders because of something that I had no control over.


Patrick Adams  11:09

Right. So true. And, you know, obviously, we I don’t want to I don’t want to spoil too much with the red bead experiment. But it’s a it’s a fun exercise. The other thing that I think is important to mention, you know, while we’re talking about this, is that the hands on aspect of the red bead experiment, and which is why, you know, it’s it’s a workshop, obviously. But when I was in Japan, just recently, we went to a Toyota supplier, and we walked out into the manufacturing area, and they had this, this, like glass, I don’t know box on a pedestal, and they had us come over to it. And inside of this class box, they had a boot with the front side of the boot cut off, and they had a a big, big heavy weight that you could lift up and then drop, and it would come down and hit the top of the boot. And you could switch out the steel toe boot with a non steel toe in and it was a way that they were they had created a hands on experience for new, you know, new employees that are onboarding, to be a for them to be able to see the importance in this shop of wearing steel toe boots, like not just telling them, but actually having them lift the weight and drop the weight onto the boot and you seeing it like smash the boot. And so I just made me think about that when I’m thinking about the red bead experiment, any hands on activity? What do you think is the power? You know, behind these hands on activities specifically for the red bead experiment, you know, the visual teaching technique? I mean, why is that so important with a lesson like this, that we use this, this hands on technique to teach it?


John Dyer  12:56

Right? Well, you know, as you mentioned in the introduction, I’ve been at this now for quite a long time, and have had the opportunity to do training classes all around the world. And it doesn’t matter if I have to do it with an interpreter and a different language and a different culture. Whenever you do something that is tangible, it’s easy to see, it’s something people can do and feel. It resonates more, and it’s remembered more by those folks. So you know, again, when you think about adult learning, right? The old, the old saying about, you know, you learn only a small percentage of what you read, you only learn a small percentage of what you hear. But you retain a high percentage of what you actually do what you actually are part of. And I’m a big believer in that. So like, all of my training classes are very hands on very interactive. You know, it’s one thing to talk about what a process map is, as an example, as a tool. It’s a whole another thing to actually do a process map and use that to identify where opportunities for improvement are occurring. And then all of a sudden, it’s like, wow, that’s very cool. We need to start doing more of that tool. So over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to develop a lot of different activities that try to highlight as many of these different tools techniques, methodologies for Lean and Six Sigma. So that people walk away going, Oh, okay, now Now I get it now i Now I understand why. Why that’s an important concept to remember. Yeah. So yeah. Hands on is is by far the most powerful and again, like I said, Dr. Deming believed that as well. in his classes, he did several of different techniques to drive points home that were engaging. You know, I remember one where in order to show variability, the impact of variability, he had people hold the, the ropes have a funnel, and they dropped balls, marbles down the funnel and plotted it on paper where the where the balls hit to show how the variability of a process can greatly decrease the ability to make good quality product. So, so yeah, they were, you know, and again, those are those things. I mean, you got to think I went through this training 35 years ago, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. 


Patrick Adams  18:00

Amazing. Yeah, that’s great. I, that’s another one that I really I like because you have all the different ropes, which every one of those is adding another level of variability. And then you have the funnel itself. How big is the funnel? How deep is the funnel? The marbles? How, you know, how heavy are they? How, you know, what, what’s the diameter difference? How what’s the height of the funnel to the ground? I mean, there’s just so many variables, right? And it’s the same as in business.


John Dyer  18:28

Right? I mean, even even the variability of identifying where the marble hit on the paper. Sure, sure. Yeah. So even even the data could have variation in it. So yeah, there’s there’s multitude of variability. And, you know, one of the lines from my book that I really like is a put in there that a good leader doesn’t believe in good or bad luck. They believe in good or bad systems. Right? If you have a lot of variability, then you are beholden to the good or bad luck of that system. Versus pulling the team together, mapping it out, identifying where that variation is coming from, and then slowly getting rid or reducing those pieces of variability that then create a system that becomes so robust, you no longer have to be concerned about luck.


Patrick Adams  19:33

Exactly. Yes. And obviously, you know, great, great, you know, different types of activities. I mean, we just mentioned a couple of them. But you also there’s another one that you conducted at the AME conferences. Last year in Dallas, you and I were together and you’re going to bring that one to the Lean Solution Summit as well. And that’s the leadership experiment. So this is one that You’ve been you’ve been developing you’ve, you know, you’ve kind of I don’t know that you’ve perfected it yet, but I think you keep improving it, you know, every everywhere you go. And it’s a really, really great experiment or activity. Can you talk to us a little bit about that one? And what what that’s about?


John Dyer  20:16

Yeah, and this will be a tremendous teaser, right? Because the I do believe the leadership experiment will answer the question. Why do most lean initiatives fail? Or not sustainable? Ooh,


Patrick Adams  20:37

that’s a good one. Good question.


John Dyer  20:39

And I tell you, and it’s actually based on a question I asked at the end of the leadership experiment to the audience. And every time I’ve run this, they conclude and come up with the exact same answer, and not when they like, but one that they’re like, oh, this explains a lot about why we’ve struggled to keep our team based improvement efforts like Lean and Six Sigma, going for the long term, oh, yeah, you might get a, you know, a big dose of it upfront, get a lot of excitement, bring in some consultants, do some training, get a few wins under your belt. But there are many, many examples of Lean initiatives that begin to, you know, Peter out over time, and eventually fail. And then later on, when you try to reengage the employees, they’re like, you know, why should we bother? Because clearly, you’re not serious about, you know, getting us engaged, right. So. So yeah, the leadership experiment, we, you know, you mentioned that in my book, I talked about four different styles of leadership leadership experiment, demonstrates, though, those different styles. It’s kind of in the same vein, as the Deming red bead experiment, I asked for some, you know, volunteers, to participate in the activity. And, and someone, you know, that’s very brave to step forward as the leader. And, and we, they, they’re given a task to accomplish. And in the, there’s several different rounds, but in one of the rounds, the leader acts like a dictator. And, and, you know, usually, the task is very painful to get done. It takes a long time. And then we go through a few more rounds, and then they get a chance to be an empowerment leader. And the results are starkly different. Well. And then, but then I asked the question, which of the different types of leaders would most likely get promoted in your organization? Today? That’s the question, that, to me, that is the fundamental root cause of everything associated with a successful lean initiative, has the corporation discussed and agreed upon a change in the criteria of who gets promoted? Or who gets hired from the outside to fill leadership positions within the company? And that’s the main thing we’ll be exploring in the leadership experiment. Wow.


Patrick Adams  23:50

Powerful. So can I ask without giving away too much information? Because obviously, we want all of you that are listening to come attend the Lean Solution Summit in October, October 2, third, and fourth. But without giving too much information away? Can you share with the audience a little bit about maybe some of the the outcomes or the comments, discussions that have happened in past workshops? You know, what, what were some of the findings or some of the lessons learned things that people walked away with that you would say are worth highlighting?


John Dyer  24:26

Right? Well, again, first, we’ll talk about the four different styles. And that’s important, you know, just to start putting some context around. You know, we talk a lot about the importance of leadership right in the ability to get lean implemented. In fact, if you look at the Demings, 14 points, almost all of them have something to do with leadership. So even Dr. Deming saw the importance of changing the culture and the only way to do do that is to change how leaders interact with their employees. So, so we’ll talk about the different styles of leadership. And believe it or not, each style is appropriate at certain points in the growth of the organization. And that’s another thing, I think companies don’t do a good job of, you know, they, they want to go from zero to 100 in a nanosecond, without allowing the organization to grow and mature. And then all of a sudden, it falls apart. Because they rushed it too much. And, and then they say, Well, yeah, see, I told you, engaging the employees and empowering them as a waste of time. And then they go right back to the old way of doing things. So we’ll talk about a the natural progression that an organization needs to go through which of those leadership styles are most conducive to team based improvement? And then what are the roadblocks that prevent organizations from achieving that empowerment, tight culture? And ultimately will lead to the failure of the lean initiative?


Patrick Adams  26:26

Love it, love it? Well, I’m excited to have you up here in Michigan, October 2, third, and fourth, it’s going to be it’s going to be a powerful Summit.


John Dyer  26:36

With the inaugural workshops. It’s the first right the inaugural lien summit, I tell you, I’m excited to be part of the first one, because I’m telling you, this is going to get big. And, you know, in a few years, when you’re, you know, completely sold out and turning people away, I’ll be able to say, I was part of the first lien summit in Michigan.


Patrick Adams  26:59

That’s right, exactly. And not just the first but John, for those of you that are listening in, John and I have been talking about, even you know what’s to come in 2024 2025. I mean, we’re already starting to dream about how to make this summit even more powerful than it’s going to be this year, which is going to be hard to be, because it is going to be amazing this year. With Chris McChesney is actually opening that for the summit, he’ll be our opening keynote, and he is the author of four disciplines of execution. I saw him first speak at the Global Leadership Summit, which he just blew me away. And I just, he is amazing. So I mean, we have, you know, 20, plus other speakers that are just amazing. And obviously, you know, yourself leading yourself and others that are leading some of the amazing workshops and great tours. But just, again, as a teaser, throwing this out there, John and I have been talking about 2024. And how do we make the summit even better than than it was in 2023? So already, we’re, you know, this is how continuous improvement professionals conversate. Do John, give our audience just a little bit of a teaser? And obviously, I want to, I want to throw this out there. We haven’t worked out any details yet. This is just a experiment that we’re discussing. And but I do want to throw it out there because I’d love to hear our audience’s thoughts on this. Give give us some feedback on what you think. But what we’re considering is a lean team based process improvement competition. And so again, John, fill us in, tell us tell our audience a little bit more about that.


John Dyer  28:57

Right, you know, and it actually ties into some of the things that we were discussing earlier, right? How do people best learn. So, you know, I’ve been to many, many conferences, just as you have. And a lot of those conferences have, you know, tremendous plant tours, where you get a chance to walk through a plant, maybe one that’s doing really well with their lean initiatives. So you can kind of see what the end result should look like, if you’re starting down this journey. And in some cases, that can be pretty intimidating for folks, right? If I’m just getting started, and I’m now walking through a plant that’s been at it for, you know, 510 years, and it’s like, whoa, you know, this is this is a bit overwhelming. And one of the questions I hear a lot of people ask is, Well, how did you get started? What were the steps you went through? How did you approach you know, fixing this and tackling that and addressing that problem? And it got me Thinking that another way people might really appreciate how lean gets implemented is to watch a team come together and tackle a particular lean problem and see the steps that they go through. So, again, and we’re seeking some feedback here from the audience. First question would be, you know, are there any plants out there that think they’d be interested in sending a team of folks to a conference in order to participate in a lean competition? And then second, is, you know, do you see merit in having the opportunity to watch a team tackle a particular situation, almost like a mini kaizen event, but real time in a very accelerated format, you know, maybe, you know, just a few hours instead of a few days, and, and have a competition element to it to see which team can rise above the others and use the most appropriate Lean tools in the most effective way. And then actually, part of the competition I’m envisioning would be to put together a, an assembly type process, and then we have each of the teams run that assembly process to see how well they’re able to meet the needs of the customers, can they hit the models that are needed? Can they hit the tack time that’s needed? Can they do it with a minimal amount of inventory? You know, how many examples of visual management techniques are they able to utilize? So, again, we want to do it in a very professional way. You know, maybe, maybe we’re putting bikes together that could be donated to a local charity, you know, something in that kind of a vein. But we’re just in the idea, development, and we’re in the plan of Plan, Do Check Act. That’s right. So part of plan is getting feedback from folks, what do they think? Do they think that this would be something they’d be interested in? Or interested in, in observing?


Patrick Adams  32:43

And not only that, but also, we want it to be valuable for anyone that’s attending the summit, you know, from any industry? So, you know, would a manufacturing example be the best? Or maybe there’s a couple of different examples? Or how do we keep it, you know, to where it will be valuable for all those in attendance. So again, very early in the planning stages on this, but we wanted to throw it out there, see if we can get some feedback from from those of you that are listening in and you can email our office office at finding with any suggestions on that. We’d love to hear what your thoughts are for next year. So with that said, John, I want to kind of bring us back around full circle here. I appreciate your time, the red bead experiment, the leadership experiment to amazing activities that you will be leading at this year’s lean Solutions Summit, October 2, third, and fourth, I appreciate your willingness to share some teasers with us on that. But definitely would suggest everyone listening in come and sign up for Jon’s workshop. He’ll be running his the red bead experiment and leadership experiment back to back so you could literally sign up for both of them, and never even get out of your chair. Well, I can’t say that. I can’t say you won’t get out of your chair. But you might be you might be involved in one of these activities. Would you agree, John?


John Dyer  34:14

Right. Absolutely.


Patrick Adams  34:17

All right. So I will drop a drop a link to the summit into the show notes so that you can register if you actually use John’s last name Dyer, and the number 20. You can get 20% off on your registration. And then be sure to register for his workshop. Either the red bead experiment or the Leadership Challenge, either one or the leadership experiment. Sorry. Either one will be available on October fourth at the Lean Solutions Summit. So with that said, John, thank you again. I appreciate having you back on today. love chatting with you and just hearing your heart and your willingness to share with the rest of the To the continuous improvement community, thank you for your amazing book, that facade of excellence, I will also make sure that we have a link to that in the show notes for those. So for those of you that are hearing John for the first time, you can go back and listen to his other episode where we talked about the facade of excellence. And you can go to the show notes and find the link directly to his book. So John, thanks again and I will see you in October.


John Dyer  35:27

I look forward to it Patrick.



Meet Patrick

Patrick is an internationally recognized leadership coach, consultant, and professional speaker, best known for his unique human approach to sound team-building practices; creating consensus and enabling empowerment. He founded his consulting practice in 2018 to work with leaders at all levels and organizations of all sizes to achieve higher levels of performance. He motivates, inspires, and drives the right results at all points in business processes.

Patrick has been delivering bottom-line results through specialized process improvement solutions for over 20 years. He’s worked with all types of businesses from private, non-profit, government, and manufacturing ranging from small business to billion-dollar corporations.