Embracing A Culture Of Innovation

The next big thing is unlikely to come from the same organization that brought us today’s big thing.

Innovation usually comes from without. For example, at one time IBM and the “seven dwarfs” (Burroughs, CDC, GE, Honeywell, NCR, Univac, and XDS) ruled the computer business. They did not see the emergence of the mini-computer and DEC, Data General, and Varian took the leadership as the minis eroded the big computer market. Again, these people missed out as the microcomputer industry took over and Apple, Compaq, HP, and later Dell reigned. IBM made a reemergence in the micros but later sold the micro portion of their business to a Chinese firm. Now we have tablets led by Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon and the smart phones led by Apple, Nokia, and Research In Motion are taking big chunks of the market.

Wait, there is an anomaly; Apple has transcended a couple of generations.  How did they do that, was it the freakish creativity of their leader Steve Jobs? Has he been able to instill this innovation culture in Apple, or are they doomed to be bypassed in the future like others? Time will tell.

How does one create and sustain this innovation culture? Several people addressed this question in a recent conference in Minneapolis sponsored by Advanced Improvement Systems LLC.

  • Incremental changes are no longer sufficient in a world that is operating in fundamentally different ways, build a discipline of innovation-Barb Spurrier, Mayo Clinic
  • Proposed solutions require a paradigm shift in upper management processes-Cathy Reiter, Toro
  • Virtual Participants felt more connected than live-Melissa Lenk, Cargill
  • Commercialize faster-Bob Mitchell
  • All of Deming’s theories are still relevant-Dr. Charles Liedtke, Advanced Improvement Systems
  • Electronic suggestions must include:
    • If we do this __________________
    • This will happen _____________
    • And this is why ______________

–       Sara Rose, MN Department of Human Services

Ms. Rose reported that they still have the typical suggestion boxes in the organization but they find it much more useful to use an electronic approach for speed and quality of suggestions. One caveat, the suggestion must include answers to the three questions above.

It seems obvious to be continually innovative; organizations must tap the brainpower of all employees in real time. Individuals like Steven Jobs being the one-point innovative driver in the organization are extremely rare. To attain the all-employee involvement, they must understand and be passionate about the aim of the organization. They must be empowered and enabled to make decisions as needed. This means fewer levels of management are required or even desired. Each employee must accept the responsibility to lead. Management can create the environment for empowerment but employees must step up and accept that responsibility.

There has to be some tolerance for risk taking, willingness to try creative ideas, and forgiveness of mistakes. If you do things because that is the way they have always been done, it is probably wrong. The world is changing rapidly.

Dr. Deming was fond of offering this poser, “If you want to get ahead, you have to get ahead.”