How to create a culture that does Cool S@!T that Matters


Apologies in advance for the length - I think you'll find it worth the read :)  

Two days ago I received an e-mail from Walter Werner a Deming Master who used to work for my father at Nashua Corporation.

The e-mail was in response to an on-going discussion we've been having on how to bring system thinking to organizations today.

The "ideal" approach to culture change is leadership driven.   However, today just as it was in 1980, many leaders find it difficult to lead the transformation.   It's easy to "whine" about leadership not leading the transformation.  However, I and the  Innovation Engineering Movement have a strict no whining policy.  Instead to phrase Admiral Peary, discoverer of the North Pole "we shall find a way or make a way."

Walter's note sets up the situation well.   Following it - I outline our current best thinking on how to create cultural success in today's world.   With some gentle editing for length and context to the community…Walter wrote


This idea has rattled around in my head for a couple days now. I don't know if it will help you or just give you something more to think about.

I am troubled by a trend that has been reported more than once: people aren't taking their vacations any more. In fact they are taking more and more hours, more and more work home, and never leave the office when you consider electronic communication.

The core of this behavior started during the recession when no one wanted to say "NO!" to anything the boss might ask, suggest, request, or require. Nobody wanted to take the risk of losing their job in that market.

I bring this up since this climate of fear has become a new normal for many organizations. Deming/Juran/Crosby was a culture change with a bunch of tools added.

Many companies could not or would not make the culture change but loved the tools.   Although Innovation Engineering is in the end a cultural change you don't sell it that way. You introduce a series of tools, systems and education that can accelerate innovation projects somewhat painlessly. You then look at the long term cultural change as an evolution. 

In a fear based culture you don't do anything without permission. It's not just fear of standing out but it's fear that higher levels will think: IF THEY CAN FIND THE TIME AND RESOURCES TO DO THAT THEN THEY MUST HAVE MORE RESOURCES THAN THEY REALLY NEED--CUT THEM DOWN SOME MORE!  Any trial no matter how small requires extra effort. People in a fear based organization know that any improvement will just be claimed by upper levels while work stress never improves.

Are some of your clients so far over on the excessive stress distribution that all hope is gone in their workforce? It took time to break this behavior at Aristech. US Steel is a fear based organization and they had driven that fear deep into our employees before they sold what would become Aristech.

The first couple years at one company I helped with our executives kept asking: "How far do we have to move before the employees move to join us?" The reality is AS FAR AS IT TAKES. In effect leadership has dug a credibility hole and only they can fill it back in. 

Fortunately, our executives kept growing and things did change slowly and then much faster.

A well trained Marine or Navy SEAL unit will do incredible things under impossible conditions. A poorly trained unit of conscripts will sit and quake in fear after the first shots.

You can't change a culture over night.  Ask yourself about each client separately: "Are these Marine combat troops or hopeless refugees?" 

In the back of your mind you understand Profound Knowledge, 14 Points and 10 Deadly Sins. I believe that many of your clients never read that chapter, skipped that class or just failed that course. Go on the internet and watch one of those stray dog rescue videos. In the beginning the poor animal cowers from any contact. It is only after time and repeated new human behavior that a happy animal appears. Why should employee animals be any different?

Hmmm! This feels different than most of my attempts to help you. I am not trying to give you an argument or tool to improve your situation. Instead I feel like I am taking you down the very human rabbit hole. Doctors can't help patients that won't take the medicine, stop smoking or maintain a healthy diet. Remember that Deming and Juran would refuse a client that they felt wasn't ready. Are there times and places where you should do the same thing?

A good general wins battles. A great general knows when to retreat and when not to fight at all. I think you should define the conditions under which you will politely refuse to move forward with a potential client.

When I was sent to one company by an executive I had a conversation with some employees. They said: "How are you different? We worked with Juan. We worked with Crosby." 

I asked: "What happened when you worked with Dr. Juran?" "Oh he came in for a breakfast meeting. Then he looked at our executives and said: 'You aren't ready!' Then he left." Juran and Deming were great generals.

Now, I feel like I can ask, have I helped you?

Be safe my friend,



From my exchanges with Walter - and work with corporations - the following is our current best thinking on how to create a culture of innovation in the world of stress that exists...

There are two ways to implement System Driven Innovation.   The “Deming approach” is leadership driven.  Top management lead the transformation starting with one business unit, then another till the entire organization is innovating.   This is powerful but it is very rare that the top leadership feel they have the time and support to do system and culture work as opposed to driving top line and bottom line results.
The other approach, is a "PROJECT METRICS DRIVEN Diffusion of innovations” approach.  A few volunteer “Pioneers” are educated in the new mindset and then set loose on an innovation challenge that a middle or upper level manager faces.   It could be for restarting growth or profitability, new or improved offerings, or ideas for improving an internal system.   They create and accelerate an abundance of ideas, file patents and fill a metrics dashboard with results.  The result is tangible metrics and return on investment within 6 months.
The success of the pioneers creates a pull within the organization as other managers ask for help accelerating innovations and more people volunteer.
Importantly, instead of going “outside” the organization’s existing systems the pioneers work within them. This reduces stress and disruption.  For example, instead of removing a company’s Stage - Gate product or service development system - the existing system is upgraded to be more effective.
This approach to “upgrading not destroying”” - improving not staring over” - “collaboration not confrontation”- is critical if broad based support is to be realized.  In time, as results continue to grow then support departments become innovators as well.  To help accelerate project success and business results - Strategic Planning innovates with Strategy Activation Blue Cards,  The Stage-Gate team innovates by adding WHY AND HOW to their WHAT check lists, Market Research innovates with Rapid Research systems, Finance innovates with Research Analytics and Calibration charts, Legal innovates with Patent ROI, Human Resources innovates with Collaboration Cafe.
On every project "wave" the pioneers and early adopter create OVER WHELMING numbers of ideas.  They stretch beyond the objective creating patented inventions that grow corporate wealth even when not asked.   The plan is to BURY THE CULTURE IN BIG IDEAS.   With the over abundance of ideas the standards are raised.   For large companies where an idea worth $10 million was the minimum size idea worth working on now the staring place is ideas $40 million.  Where before 18 to 24 months was the cycle time from idea to launch now the organization is on a cycle of upgrades and new ideas every 12 months.
PROJECT METRICS DRIVEN SUCCESS creates pull for system upgrades and deeper education.   Step by step the new culture grows till it reaches the tipping point and accelerates across the organization.
The positive to this approach is that it: 1) Generates tangible and visible ROI via Metrics Dashboard, 2) It is painless to operationalize and 3) Leadership doesn't have to invest much time or energy to make it work.
Downsides to this approach include 1) It takes a long time - 3 to 5 years to achieve true culture change, 2) The teams live under continuing uncertainty that they could be "shut down" if they have one failure (as a result good people often quit when it goes to slow for them) and, 3) two communities develop - the innovators and the traditionalists - that can be counter productive if not diffused.
Ok so Project Metrics Driven Success is not perfect.  It has consequences.  I would argue that Leadership Lead also has consequences.
However - give the importance of our mission - to change the world by enabling innovation by everyone, everywhere, every day - I say GO FOR IT.  Take what ever path you can - go as fast as you can - the people, the organization and the world need innovation now more than ever.
To learn more about Innovation Engineering call Lydia Carson at 513 271-9911.  We have an Innovation College that I'm teaching the week of April 18 - we'd love to have you attend.   At this course we will be releasing the final IE 3.0 curriculum for System Driven Leadership.