Many of the activities and strategies we use to innovate and manage are actually road blocks to creativity and innovation. Certainly, the enforcement of a time line and being cost conscience, are important, but only in respect to their appropriate place in the life cycle of a product or service. When applied to the creative and innovative phases in this life cycle, they are disruptive and cause sub-optimization.
Innovation is a creative process that requires open-mindedness and a safe environment. Creativity and innovation are processes that rely upon failure and the ability to learn from failure. You cannot create or innovate where failure is unacceptable or penalized.
High Performance Work Group Manifesto:
- Reject the “Box”. We do not want to be categorized into anything normal or stationary.
- Do not seek what is easy or comfortable.
- We value problems, roadblocks and change. We expect and seek out problems, roadblocks and change.
- We value the team.
- We value diversity of opinion.
- We value the “and” and reject the “or”. We want it the way we want it.
- We enjoy being told that something can’t be done. Then going out and proving the “teller” wrong.
- We are pirates. Not conformists.
Engineers want to build things and scientists want to understand things. It takes both to successfully innovate. The ability to dream a concept and build it into reality requires both a drive to understand the science and challenges, and the desire to build this understanding into reality.
Managing this kind of effort is not easy. Both creativity and curiosity are desired and rewarded, even when they may seem in conflict with established business paradigms. Sometimes you find that you are managing a very focused effort, single minded in its desire to achieve a goal. Other times you are managing chaos. Both are essential to innovation in some balanced dance of interplay.
Getting the most out of yourself and others.
Perspective is nearly everything when it comes to accelerating your performance, or someone else’s. Human motivation is more art than science. No matter what I believe or expect about the natural laws, for example, my opinion has no impact. Gravity does what gravity does, no matter what I think.
Human motivation is different. What you believe about yourself, or others, has an impact on your behavior or someone else’s behavior. The self-fulfilling prophecy does not apply to natural laws, but does apply to us lowly humans. This is both good and bad.
One of the first things I look at when hired as an operations consultant is whether managers are managing people or processes. Successful, growing companies spend 80-90% of their “managerial” time managing processes. Struggling companies spend most of their time managing people. It really is a leadership paradigm.
The graphic below is one I use to help businesses develop their operational focus.
Engineering begins with the axiom that there is nothing we can’t figure out. I used to call this roof top engineering because it requires a shift in the way we view challenges. Viewing a challenge from different perspective gives us a 3D perspective of it.
Here is an example of this shift in thinking:
When we see the numbers below, we intuitively understand what they mean, but why these shapes? I believe that it is important to know the origins of things.
Our number shapes come from the Hindu-Arabic number characters. Remember that these characters were used as a universal way to count for commerce. One need not intuitively know the name of the character, just how it represented a quantity.
Can you figure it out? (Hint: Count the angles on each character)
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What gets in the way of improvement? Stated differently, what gets in the way of on-going success? Understand that today’s success is tomorrow’s mediocrity. I believe the answer is related to our clarity of vision, our focus. We have heard the cliché, “Keep your eye on the ball”. The question is which ball?
I believe that the answer is also related to how much energy we spend on maintaining the status quo. We can easily create an overload of rules, processes and metrics that keep us from doing our best work. Like the swimmer who spends their energy treading water to avoid drowning, instead of swimming to shore.
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Continuous Improvement, Working Without a Safety Net
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I coached high school basketball for 4 years. A significant learning from this experience was the importance of the basics, or the fundamentals. We won a lot of games because we rebounded better, passed better and had fewer turnovers than the other teams we played. Every day in practice we worked on the fundamentals of blocking out to improve our rebounding, the fundamentals of passing to get scoring opportunities, the fundamentals of how to avoid dribbling so that we could overcome trapping defenses. Because we did the little things right, the bigger things fell into place.
Be aware of how much of the “Big Picture” you and your direct reports see. A common mistake in organizations trying to improve is the assumption that everyone gets it. The diagram below shows how our scope of vision (how much of the “big Picture” we see) can be affected by our place in the organization.
This phenomenon leads to sub-optimization and silo’ing. For example, one department applies 5-S strategy by moving their stuff into someone else’s area, or throws something important away. Another group optimizes a value stream at the expense of other value streams, or the business in general. Buy-in is weak at best.