Leave it to the Harvard Business Review 1 to regurgitate an old debate on the relationship between continuous improvement and innovation. Here’s a great recipe for effective regurgitation that gets the media’s trousers all up in a wad:
- Have a reasonable title that draws in the reader.
- Then, zap them with a first paragraph oozing with a doomsday tone to get them scared, angry, or outright interested to read the rest of the article.
- Go down the march of history and explain the debate, various points of views, but don’t dare be conclusive. Keep it open ended.
- Then, close the article with questions, keeping the reader interested enough to comment on the article, write an article as a response, tweet the article to their followers, or just give the reader something to think about – as if the reader has nothing else better to occupy their minds and thoughts with.
Using this approach, Ron Ashkenas does a heck of a job. Except for one thing:
What Tangled Webs We Weave
When one brings up an old debate, rehashes old stories of companies that failed, fell, or are otherwise now forgotten because they implemented some form of misguided Lean, Six Sigma, or, in general, Continuous Improvement, be sure to also highlight how those companies implemented continuous improvement.
The HOW matters.
For example, if a very dogmatic approach and a broadstroke was made to implement a very rigid version of Lean and to do it everywhere – then the fruits of such approach clearly will lead to a bad end.
But that’s not the fault of Lean of Continuous Improvement.
Lean Doesn’t Kill Innovation, People Kill Innovation
Using an old Gun Rights mantra of “guns don’t kill people; people kill people”, we can apply the same logic to the debate:
Lean doesn’t kill innovation – people kill innovation.
What do I mean?
Lean, as properly understood and applied with wisdom, is actually very flexible and very practical. There’s actually little or no dogma at all. Indeed, it’s all about “practice over theory”. But, when dogma enters the scene, that’s when bad things happen to good companies.
So, how can one wisely implement Lean Thinking, meet the goals of Lean, and yet support Innovation?
I even described this dogmatic approach in the continuous improvement world as Sith-like.
Okay, it’s not that easy, but seriously, be wise; focus on practical aspects, be pragmatic, and use your common sense.
Here’s a few examples of where this has been done to support innovation and to also do so in the spirit of Lean Thinking:
- Ideo: Yup, Ideo is the Innovation 300 Pound Gorilla. And, when you look at their Innovation Process – it uses many, many tools and approaches straight from Toyota.
- Clayton Christensen: Yes, the Innovation Guru and Juggernaut and pre-eminent author on Innovation. He quotes me in his new book “The Innovator’s DNA”, wherein he describes the 5-whys approach as central to innovation.
So, let’s put an end to this debate. Instead, let’s shine a light on all the Lean and Six Sigma dogmatist and their unwise approaches. Anything done to the extreme is really contrary to the spirit of lean. That’s what we need to address.
- http://blogs.hbr.org/ashkenas/2012/05/its-time-to-rethink-continuous.html ↩