Dude, You Need Innovation!
I just Googled (yep, it’s a verb now…) the word “innovation”. As of this date, there were “about” 201,000,000 results. You can discern something about a topic by the number of Google results there are. Innovation is a big deal these days. It may be a simple cloaking device for the real issue: organizations need to drive out cost without driving out people. To me, this sounds like a simple equation for Operational Excellence, at least the KCOE version of it. We aim for mutual trust and respect and the effect is this: costs drop. You win and your team wins, if you are aiming at mutual trust and respect on all fronts.
So, if innovation is a big deal, how would – or how does – the KCOE System (Operational Excellence) deal with it?
I thought you’d never ask!
The Essence of Continuous Improvement: Microinnovation
I am hoping that I’ve just coined the word Microinnovation (dibs! I called it!). This term seems to capture, for me, the essence of continuous improvement and thus the essence of how our System deals with innovation in general. We would say that real continuous improvement could only happen every minute of every day. This stands, at times, in stark contrast with the “swing for the fence” mentality of the Lean gurus who promote “kaizen blitzes” (an oxymoron).
A quick note so as not to (totally) offend my colleagues who promote kaizen events: if you are just starting an Operational Excellence journey, you may need to do some stabilization work. In our book, this looks like finding unstable processes (don’t look too hard, they should be all around you), prioritizing them according to impact to the customer (don’t look too far again: start at the shipping dock or discharge process), and doing some improvement to get them stabilized. In a nutshell, this stabilization most likely includes some standardization (standard sequencing), some visual management, some identification of roles and responsibilities and some good, old-fashioned, PDCA (wrapping a check around that nifty visualization you just created that will tell us when problems are occurring). If you really think you are getting stable results from a first pass “kaizen event” show me the data (not three or even six months of it, but – depending on the performance period of the process – 12 – 18 months of it).
Back to my previous rant: continuous improvement has to be happening all the time (hence the “continuous” in “continuous improvement”). The only way that can happen is if the improvements are really small. Some might (and do) call them “incremental”. I’m opting for the Latin root “micro-“, which means “small”. To get a system that moves towards continuous improvement, you need small improvements, or, micro-improvements.
Now, what is an improvement if it isn’t an innovation? In keeping with the Latin, an innovation is a newness placed into something. So, what the heck, I’m coining this word: microinnovation. For me and my little world, I’m defining it as that process of conceiving the small, incremental improvements characteristic in the Operational Excellence system.
Microinnovation versus Innovation
Sure, we all need innovation. You won’t survive if you don’t innovate. The problem I see is that while Corporate is making policies that mandate innovation, the rank and file can barely lift their heads to catch a breath, let alone think about hitting the home run that will save the company.
No, I advocate for a different way, a methodical, systematic approach that builds a framework for gathering information on problems and solving them. Each problem solving cycle represents a chance – a moment in time and space – for a real microinnovation.
Swing for the fence all you want, but riddle me this, Batman: why is that home runs in baseball are so exciting? It’s because they don’t happen every time someone steps up to bat. Oh, sure, every team has one guy who hits a bunch of homers, but have you ever taken a look at that guy’s strike out record? Babe Ruth hit 714 homeruns and struck out 1330 times. He held the strike out record for a decade.
Pete Rose, on the other had, had more than 4000 base hits (and at least two felonies). Conversely, Pete Rose only struck out about 400 times in TWO decades.
I once heard that 3M planned for 75% of an employee’s time to be dedicated to innovation. Their arms would get pretty tired if all they did was swing for the fence everyday. And, who is going to make all of those sticky notes??
Babe Ruth won four world series with the Yankees.
Innovation: Pete Rose won three world series with the Reds.
Give me microinnovation…every minute, every day.
Microinnovation as the Basis for Innovation
The cool thing about microinnovation is that each time you make a microinnovation, you carve the innovation spirit into a person. When that big idea is staring them in the face, nothing will stop them from making the big innovation (I guess that is a macroinnovation, right??). They have the right mindset, the right attitude and are equipped to conceive, test and even follow through with the idea.
In the KCOE System, macroinnovation is aimed at the top problems and improvement themes as analyzed through our Annual Planning process. Macroinnovations come in the form of QC Circles.
Innovate in the way you are Driving Innovation
So, if you’ve been crying for innovation for the past three years and not getting much of it, can I suggest you try something new? How about innovating the way you strive for innovation?
Hey, that’s a new idea…