Dr. Deming always talked about the need to "optimize" a system" and, if he were alive today, he would be talking about the entire world as a system that must be "optimized."
I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Deming in person in 1992 (he was 91 at the time) at George Washington University after one of the last public presentations he would ever deliver. Nowadays, when speaking in public, I share a personal anecdote about how he "schooled" me for a few minutes that day.
Afterwards, he carefully wrote a few words of advice at the top of a one-page document that I had shown him--a treasure that was framed and has hung in my office ever since. It reads:
"Keep on learning. Study optimization of a system." W. Edwards Deming
His fundamental premise was that the hourly workers know a great deal about what's wrong with systems in which they work but are not empowered to actually change the "system." Only management can do that. Hence, it's management's job to listen to those workers and to work continuously to improve all systems in which they work--forever.
The same is true for the entire Earth "system" that is comprised of 7.6 billion humans, millions of other species of creatures and plants, the oceans, the soil, the atmosphere and the global economy.
For a host of reasons, many aspects of human civilization are grossly unsustainable--starting with out-of-control population growth and a global economy that is based on maximizing the consumption of STUFF in a world of finite resources.
Our "optimized" economy of the future must be based on well-defined international rules/laws on population and consumption that protect and restore the ecosystem that sustains all life on Earth. But how do we get there?
We as individual citizens cannot make changes to that global system. We can only make changes in our personal behavior. Only those in power, collaborating with one another, can bring about comprehensive, positive change in the overall "system" wherein human beings may coexist and flourish with nature.
Many of the world's 7.6 billion citizens are trying to do their best to be kind to our environment, but we are like those factory workers in Japan.
As individuals, we are incapable of making improvements to the overall system.
That will depend on strong global leadership and coordination in order to create a "system" in which our human species can coexist indefinitely with Mother Nature.
The Bottom Line. If our species is to survive longterm, we must develop a way of living here on Earth that operates in harmony with nature. But so far, our presence on Earth has only made things worse. For the past 200 years, we have moved steadily away from an "optimized" system that is necessary for humans to continue living here indefinitely.
"Mother Earth functions as a self-regulating system...If she improves as a result of human presence, then we will flourish; if she doesn't, then we will die off."
Together, Deming and Lovelock would've been working to save our species by promoting "planet management" and continuous process improvement to ensure that Mother Earth improves as a result of our presence.
In my public presentations, I offer a few details as to how that might work. It won't be easy, but it's never too late.