Thomas Huxley Quotes on Managing by Fact

By Jon Miller Published on February 13th, 2013

Management by fact is a key guiding principle of kaizen and lean thinking. By gathering facts and evidence people are able to communicate realities, define problems, and convert them into opportunities to improve the situation. Many of the management methods of kaizen and Lean, such as one piece flow, jidoka, visual management, 5S, kanban, andon, genchi genbutsu, standard work for leaders and standard work are designed to bring facts to the forefront.
Sometimes these facts are not pretty. Nor do facts always agree with company politics or the prevailing leadership dogma. Facts are not always convenient. Reconciling the need to manage by fact with the desire for beauty and harmony within our lives may be a reason why these Lean methods are often resisted at first.
Nineteenth century biologist Thomas Huxley said, “science is organized common sense where many a beautiful theory was killed by an ugly fact”. As an early champion of modern Western science he left us with quite a few more quotes relevant to managing by fact and the kaizen philosophy in general.

Learn what is true in order to do what is right.
God give me strength to face a fact though it slay me.
The ultimate court of appeal is observation and experiment… not authority.
The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence.
Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every conceived notion, follow humbly wherever and whatever abysses nature leads, or you will learn nothing.

But facing facts, questioning beliefs and grappling with the unknowns in the universe with healthy scientific skepticism is neither easy nor comfortable for humans, nor was it for Huxley:

I am content with nothing, restless and ambitious… and I despise myself for the vanity, which formed half the stimulus to my exertions. Oh would that I were one of those plodding wise fools who having once set their hand to the plough go on nothing doubting.

And Huxley was not saying to live only through facts and deductive reasoning, but also encouraged us to use inductive reasoning, go forward boldly to present new hypotheses in spite of human failings and biases:

There is no greater mistake than the hasty conclusion that opinions are worthless because they are badly argued.

As an advocate of science and managing by fact, Huxley believed that the thinking process is more important than the views, positions or specific thoughts one has. In kaizen we say “good process, good results, while Huxley said:

I do not say think as I think, but think in my way. Fear no shadows, least of all in that great spectre of personal unhappiness which binds half the world to orthodoxy.

But all of this talk of hypothesis, reasoning and science does not mean that Huxley was merely a man of thought. For him thought was a means to an end, to taking the necessary actions in life.

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not.

On converting decision into action, Huxley said:

Make up your mind to act decidedly and take the consequences. No good is ever done in this world by hesitation.

For those with humility and courage, the facts await. Go see.

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