The SECRET: System Evolution not Revolution


Key Message:   System Driven Innovation requires never ending innovation in our internal systems for strategic alignment, phase gate, collaboration, rapid research and patenting.  HOWEVER - it’s easier to find the time and energy to invent a breakthrough innovation then it is to get an investment in system improvements. THE SECRET to system innovation is to do it through EVOLUTION not REVOLUTION. 

This insight has come to me over the past month as I worked on the 3.0 version of the fourth Innovation Engineering course on campus - System Driven Leadership.

It was reinforced yesterday in an email from Walter Werner, Deming Master.   The italics are his words…

A simple statement of our purpose would be work smarter not harder. If an organization is not constantly working to make its systems more efficient then they will become less efficient over time.   Eventually work/problems/fire fighting moves up the organizational ladder at least two levels higher than it/they should. Now no one can get their own work done because they are too busy doing someone else's work. 

The challenge we collectively face is that our human systems for innovation are wasteful and inefficient.  Quantitative assessments of the systems for innovation - strategic alignment, rapid research, collaboration, patents by the SENIOR LEADERSHIP finds that most Fortune 500 Companies are so bad they are costing their companies from 30 to 60% of their potential growth.

The reason for the wasteful systems is simple - the AIM of the systems is wrong.  99% of innovation systems are designed to CONTROL instead of ENABLE.  They are focused on preventing failure at all cost - instead of accelerating greatness.

SO THE ANSWER IS TO FIX THE SYSTEMS.  However this is harder then it looks    Walter teaches me that no matter how horrible the internal innovation systems are - you need to change them a step at a time.  Evolution not Revolution. 

We can have those advanced ideas in our heads and even identify opportunities to use them but we cannot cloud the over crowded minds of managers with grand dreams. Remember even an advanced manager can panic when we open up our next line of thought. They just got comfortable walking and we start talking about doing what to them sounds like high wire circus acts.

Psychology isn't just for them to learn in dealing with their employees but for us to learn in dealing with those who are new to System Thinking.  It takes a long time for them to get over the idea that what we show them is something wonderful but extra. The idea that this is how we work everyday takes a long time to sink in. Breaking the old habits takes longer. It's so easy to panic and slip right back into those old comfortable practices.

Notice how I have hidden the word PATIENCE until now. It's not as if I never say the word to you. Patience is not an easy thing for change agents. Someone blows a bugle and shouts "CHARGE" and there we go full speed over the next hill.  New Managers may be brave when it comes to their market place (probably not half as brave as they think) but they are terrified of all this human relations and high tech babble that we are pushing at them. Managers do understand failure and are terrified of it. We want them to become risk takers. That will take time.

In Japan, after World War II, Dr. Deming didn’t have this challenge.  General MacArthur fired the top 2,000 senior leaders of Japanese corporations and replaced them with managers who were “closer to the work.”   With the companies and leadership in shambles - Dr. Deming and Homer Sarasohn were able to lay out a new way of working across the organization.

Japan was a once in a lifetime, unique opportunity to restart corporate systems.  Today’s Japanese companies as with companies in the west have embraced the system thinking in their factories.  However, as Dr. Deming taught - the factory offered just 3% of the opportunity for company improvement.   97% of the opportunity with system thinking lay in Strategy, Innovation and How we Work Together.

Frankly, it's easier to create a total disruption in products - a patented new to the world invention - then it is to change how a human system operates.  Attempts to create a revolution in human systems will fail.  Instead, we must take the long term view.  Instead of REVOLUTION in systems - we must evolve the systems.   Step by step we upgrade and improve.   As Ben Franklin said, with constant dripping water wears away the stone.

Innovation Engineering builds on Dr. Deming’s work.   It’s a new field of academic study and leadership science - it shares key principles of what Dr. Deming applied to factories but it goes beyond - based on original R&D and the collective experiences of 35,000+ pioneers.

Innovation Engineering begins with education in the new science of System Driven Innovation.  We teach an Innovation College - it’s a five day intensive program where we cover 4 college courses of content in 5 days.  I'm teaching the next college the week of April 18.  To learn more call Lydia Carson at 513 271-9911.


Doug Hall