The Blessing and Curse of Never Ending Innovation

Good Morning Innovation Pioneers, I’m just back from a 3,000 mile / 10 day trip to the front lines of the Innovation Engineering movement.   It was the style of trip I learned to do at  Procter & Gamble.  By that I mean it was a trip focused on “Spending Behind the Business.”  At P&G you are taught that your first priority is to focus energy on regions, brands and managers who are the best first as they are the ones that will drive success.   Therefore, instead of visiting the “squeaky wheels” I visited with the leading edge of the movement.

Working with a collection of Innovation Engineering Network members who support SME (Small and Mid Sized Enterprises) and Large Companies I met with executives of small companies, multi-nationals, universities and governments.  I visited with Manufacturing CEO’s at their plants and at pubs, with Economic Development Leaders, thought leading Innovation Teams of Multi-Nationals, A small company CEO who lost 80% of his business (Went from $10 million to $2 million).  Rather than give up he used innovation to rebuild and is using Innovation Engineering to accelerate the journey.   I also met with leaders of two National Industry Groups - one in the USA and one in Canada that are joining the movement.

At Pittsburgh State University in Kansas I experienced the most concentrated day of presentations ever.  They set up two rooms for presentations one was smaller for more  intimate  discussions with leaders - the connecting room was set up for larger groups.  They booked the rooms back to back - while the meeting was ending in one room the room next door was filling up with participants.  I simply moved back and forth between the rooms with virtually no down time.

Last night after unpacking my suitcase - I sipped a wee nip of Scotland’s finest (Macallan 15 & Highland Park 18 of course) and reflected on my learnings.  From the trip I learned many things — new strategies with connectors, new “innovation ecosystem” models, innovation supply chain from the OEM perspective, new models for public/private/academic partnerships.  I could go on for thousands of words on the revolution occuring  within large companies and organizations.  One very senior leader told me during the trip:  "Doug I don't know if you know this but the world has been waiting for this.  I never imagined that there was a system as complete as this.  Clearly some very smart minds have been doing some deep thinking. We're in. We need to do this now."

The big company learning is great.  However, my biggest learning - that transcends small company/large company - academics / government was….

Never Ending Innovation is a Blessing and Curse:  With Innovation Engineering we believe in never ending innovation.   However, it’s clear to me that not everyone has a passion for continuous learning.  Not everyone "walks the talk" when it comes to continuous improvement.  It’s a blessing to innovate continuously.  However it’s also a Curse as most adults have a hard time with continuous learning.

With the Innovation Engineering movement every week we get smarter.  We publish the learning weekly via blogs and the portal.  We also hold conferences, webinars and publish videos.    Lastly, we are give everyone in the movement our cell phones (including mine) and provide 24/7 support for those in the field.  We clearly can do more (just yesterday I authorized investment in some mind blowing systems for education).  However - none of the systems will work if the student does not have an intrinsic motivation to stay current.

To give you an idea - of the difference between those who are “state of the art” when it comes to Innovation Engineering and those that are not —— During my trip I saw success that was mind-blowing. Kansas is on track for two more 6 company Innovation Leadership Communities.  In Winnipeg - in just 4 months - they have started 3 companies and they have a waiting list of 10 companies who want to start the Innovation Engineering Management System.

The answer to why these  “best in class” regions versus other regions that have struggled to get started is a passion for learning.

In the case of Kansas Jesse Bechtold works hard at staying “state of the art” - he and his team devour the latest learning. They are relentless in challenging thinking.  Their CEO is so engaged in learning he even writes a Weekly Blog Post reflecting on his learning for the IE Black Belt community.

In Winnipeg John Ferris and his team at inVision are new to the movement but they “walk the talk” on systems more than any organization I’ve met.   John told me “in my business plan it says we will focus only on reproducible and scalable systems.”  He and his staff are relentless in learning the best practices.

The successes in Kansas & Winnipeg are embarrassingly simple.  Their leaders - are leading their organizations with the best practices that we’ve learned as a collective movement.   Frankly, they are both the most “annoying” and the most "wonderful” members of the movement.   We get more phone calls, texts and emails from them than anyone.  A shout out is deserved for Maggie P’s work with John’s staff -  she spends hours with them each week.

Contrast this with an IE partner organization that has been in the movement for a number of years and that has struggled financially.  Recently they had to close the business for a period of time because they didn’t have the money to pay employees.  Despite these problems I learned yesterday that the leader has said "we’ve developed our own path - we use parts of Innovation Engineering and have created our own derivative.”   I must admit - I just don't know what to say to him.  The only thing I can say is to quote Deming "How could they know?"  CLICK HERE TO VIEW VIDEO CLIP - clearly we at the Innovation Engineering Institute need to do a better job educating and/or the leader of the organization is not willing to learn.

This morning here are my three first thoughts on that we should do to address this learning.

Focus more energy on the “best in class”:  Clearly P&G’s mantra of “spending behind the business” still makes sense today.   We must focus our first on helping the great get greater still if we are to have success with this movement.  Quite simply those who are the most willing, most proactive, most engaged are invaluable.  Much “Future Mining” can be learned from those that are the “lead users.” 

Accelerate smarter systems for helping the good become great: Second we need to develop smarter systems of education and make it easier for people to stay current.  We need to reach out to those who joined the IE Network in it's earlier days and try to educate them again.  As Bill Conway advised me that Dr. Deming told him "Reach out and try to educate them twice if they don't get it then 'to hell with them' move on to the willing."  In our 2014 plan we already made commitments to investing in this area - today I’m going to review those plans to see what other investments of time, energy and money we can make to help the good become great.

Make Never Ending Learning by the Leader a Screening Criteria for the Next Generation joining the  the Movement:  We are a very small movement with much to do.  We have limited resources.  Those resources need to be focused on those who are committed to never ending learning.   What makes this movement so exciting to me is how much we are all learning every day, week, month.   In time, the learning curve will slow - this is a blessing to those who are uncomfortable with continuous learning - and it’s a curse for the movement if we allow it to get too stable.

 That all said - what do you think?

Please - post your ideas and advice for how we can get smarter faster with helping educate those that are not naturally driven by never ending learning.

Rock and Roll

Doug Hall

p.s. I also have to apologize to Maggie Nichols.  About a month ago she said with passion that she felt that the Innovation Engineering had reached a tipping point and that we were in for rapid growth.   She focuses primarily on Fortune 100 Companies she told me. "Large organizations are going from “What would I use this on?” to “What WOULDN’T I use this for?”  Leaders are seeing the opportunity the system presents to align strategy with tactics and to speed success.  The driver is the conviction and unwavering commitment of the internal Black Belts to THE SYSTEM.  The IE Black Belts are gobbling up new news and technologies.  They are sponges for how to increase speed and decrease risk."


I nodded and said I didn't feel it.  I also wondered what had happened to her - she was normally very steady - how could she become so "giddy" with optimism.  Maggie is famous for her steadiness - her leadership - her ability to not become overwhelmed with optimism or negativity.   She stays focused on mission.  I mean she and I had been slogging away at this since May 19, 2002 when we did our first program for Small and Mid Sized companies at Troon In Scotland with Graeme Crombie the first member of what is now called the Innovation Engineering Network.

About half way through my recent journey  I realized that Maggie was right.  What I had missed - because my head was buried into the details of contracts, budgets, alliances and "stuff"  - was the impact that a chain reaction of changes had had on the movement.  The combination of Innovation Blueprints,   Blue Cards to connect strategy to tactics, Very Important Opportunities and Systems, IE CORE and LEAP innovations in the hands of the six LEADING EDGE members of the IE Network have generated a chain reaction of success.