Few days back my friend Dan R.D (@ddrrnt is his twitter handle) and I were having an interesting dialog over Google hangout.
Dan is busy researching on many management issues like strategy, innovation, leadership, ethics and simulation games on leadership and management.
Our dialogue was more focused on innovation with a special emphasis on Rapidinnovation as I practice it.
Our dialog went somewhat like this:
Dan: Do you see manufacturing companies take up innovation as their first choice?
Me: No. In fact it is usually the last choice.
Dan: And why is that?
Me: This is because companies first try out tried, tested and proven methods to achieve their aspiration. In that process they do achieve quite a bit. The focus is generally on operational efficiency and cut costs. When they don’t achieve what they set out for then only they take up innovation to achieve their goal. They generally take up innovation when they find their ‘magic bullets’ not providing them the needed relief or results.
Dan: Why do you think innovation is needed in an organization?
Me: Two things. First, while strategy gives direction to an organization innovation drives it. Strategy and innovation go together. Second, all organisations are unique in their own individual ways. This is because design of all organizations differ. These small differences create the uniqueness for each company. Hence there seems to be no common magic formula or bullets to bite. Each organization has its own story and those stories can only be improved by people within the organization through their innovative efforts.
Dan: What does Rapidinnovation stand for? Do you mean to say innovations are done quickly.
I agree with you that innovations are also be done quickly and effectively. If you see it that way you may call it RAPID.
Dan: Say more.
Me: People are generally afraid of innovation. And rightfully so. This is because there is always a risk involved in innovation. So there must be a decision making criteria to achieve a balance between risks and rewards. Rewards must be very clear in their minds, especially in the minds of the management. These are in terms of improved reliability, availability and performance – something that help them earn more by doing something better with lesser effort and earning more revenue in the bargain rather than only focus on producing things cheaply by cutting costs. Also innovation should be such so as to reduce risks to the minimum while maximizing the benefits.
Dan: How is that achieved?
Me: This is achieved through design innovation which is a type of minimal intervention that maximizes return on the assets.
Dan: What is the central idea in design innovation?
Me: Anything that we find in a manufacturing organization or for that matter in any organization is a result of design. It might be machines, their layout, their maintenance systems, product design, management systems, strategy and organizational design. So we find design everywhere. However, these are designed separately and also managed separately. But then these are also made to work together. This is precisely where the problem arises. When all these systems work together they intensely interact with each other. Small imperfections within these interactions produce failures, problems or issues that prevent any organization from achieving what they want to achieve.
[Additional notes – interactions within an organization is like different elements communicating to each other like people to produce an overall symphony. If there are imperfections within such communication links the symphony either turns into noise or stops. Design innovation aims to eliminate those imperfections to correct and regain the energy flow of the symphony]
The job in Rapidinnovation is to find or identify these hidden imperfections and then eliminate them through innovation thereby releasing the trapped or clogged energy within the organization to flow again smoothly and more productively. Thereby you achieve more with less. However, such innovations must be minimally invasive so that it not only uses the least amount of effort, resources and time to execute but also minimizes risk to the minimum possible extent. It must however ensure long term benefits to the company in terms of ROA (return on assets). Else innovations are meaningless.
Dan: How do we find out these imperfections?
Me: Start from failures an organization experiences. Start anywhere and soon one gets to see the whole symphony.
Dan: What makes it difficult?
Me: Labeling and placing things in silos. It is usual for us to label things. It is useful but not when trying to solve a problem. The issue becomes more acute when we attempt to solve complex problems for which answers are neither obvious or clear. So for example when we see a quality problem we instantly label it as a quality problem. Or for instance we observe a problem in customer experience we quickly label it as say a HR issue. Then we appoint appropriate persons to look at the issues. What is missed in the process is the links and interactions. The quality problem might well be an issue connected to machines and their performance and the customer experience issue might well be connected to manufacturing issues. So labeling and silo approach make things difficult.
Dan: What is the process you generally adopt?
Me: It is mainly through dialogues with people. They tell about their pains, shortcomings, challenges, problems and you soon get to see the patterns within those stories and narratives. You then help them see or notice the underlying patterns that are affecting them and off they go on their own creating their own cures. Seeing the affected patterns is the important thing. Once seen the rest follows. However, there is one problem. If you don’t get to see the pattern in a blink you possibly miss the pattern for a long time. Whatever it might be — at the end of the day, there is really no magic formula to apply. People must innovate their own cure to get rid of organizational diseases and keep them at bay.
With this the dialogue ended.
Later Dan beautifully summarized the outcome of our dialogue in the following paragraph:
“The inclusive and participation-driven approach in which his inquiries spark the needed interactions which then trigger change in organisations is awesome, to say the least. What I found most appealing, is that we’re not offering magic formulas or proven solutions, but helping people come up with their own solutions. We’re nurturing the emergence of patterns which can then be woven into a shared narrative, a shared strategy, a shared objective. The harmonizing effects reduce imperfections and increase flow, so that exchanges carry more value and are RAPID with increased potential for innovation. “