When It’s Easier to Distort the System Than it is to Improve It: Baseball Attendance

Mark Graban
4 min readJul 8, 2021

I’m often reminded of what the late Brian Joiner would write or say (often repeated by W. Edwards Deming), where he basically said there are three things that can happen when there’s pressure to meet a goal or target:

  1. Distort the numbers
  2. Distort the system
  3. Improve the system

#1 and #2 are often described as “ gaming the system” or “ fudging the numbers” as I’ve written about before in the context of Scholtes.

Deming railed against goals like “zero defects” (and would probably say the same about a “zero harm” goal) but I think what he and Sholtes warned about was setting a target and doing nothing, as a leader, other than demanding “results or else.”

When we have a goal, Dr. Deming would ask, “By what method?”

Having a method matters. Having the right leadership ( as the late Paul O’Neill provided in the name of zero harm) makes all the difference and gives people a fighting chance.

I remember a Dr. Deming story about a factory that had a target for reducing injuries, maybe it was zero, but there were definitely financial incentives dangled in front of people. Well, the answer was easy — people stopped reporting injuries, even when people were quite obviously harmed.

Back to the Scholtes framework, when it’s easier for people to distort the numbers or to distort the…

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Mark Graban

Consultant, speaker, author, podcaster. Author @LeanHospitals & “Measures of Success.” Senior Advisor & investor @KaiNexus . Marketing @ValueCaptureLLC .