What I've Learned in the Past 6 Months

Hello Innovation Pioneers around the world! I worked at Procter & Gamble for as long as I was learning.  Every January 1 and July 4th I would stop and ask myself if I was smarter than I was 6 months before.  After 10 years the answer was no so I retired and with three credit cards for my funding I set forth on my next life adventure.  The natural way of life is learning.  If we are not growing with learning we are headed towards death.

Reflecting on “What have you learned?” has become an integral part of the Innovation Engineering movement.  It’s so important that students are required to write a reflection each week of class connecting the skill they learned that week to their life.

So - as I've done for over 35 years - here's my reflection on the last 6 months....  My big picture learning confronts me over and over again.  It confronts me when educating new executives on the importance of a systems approach to innovation.  It confronts me when renovating the Innovation Engineering Curriculum.  it confronts me in my own life as I make the mistake of trying to solve life problems with the wrong mindset.

My learning from the past 6 months is...

The key reason why Systems Thinking is so difficult because systems cannot be fixed with analytical thinking - rather they require right brain synthesis.  

This mindset is reinforced by Dr. Russell Ackoff and by Clare Crawford Mason - producer of the Deming Video Library.  It is core to the reason why despite best efforts car manufacturers in the East continue to make cars that over the long term have higher quality.

As  Copthorne MacDonald in his book Toward Wisdom says it's part of the East's collective mindset:   “For a long time, most human energy was needed just to survive.  Then, between two and a half and three thousand shears ago. groups of people in both the West and the East focused on self-development.  Those in the Western World set about developing their rational side.  They developed techniques, and analytical, rational thought processes.  They concentrated on developing the ability to do. At the same time, those in the East set about developing their intuitive side.  They worked out procedures for seeing and understanding in more holistic, intuitive ways.  The concentrated on developing the ability to see.” 

It’s important to note that when talking about systems we are not talking about processes.  Systems are “the mess” “the bureaucracy” - the interconnections between corporate departments.  Systems involve two or more independent groups with a common aim.   In contrast processes are silo based.   It is easy, in fact it is common, for processes to be world class however collectively the system is a disaster.

The actions I am taking based on this insight include: 1) The changes to CREATE involving significantly greater breadth and depth of stimulus mining - including syntheses, 2) Teaching in COMMUNICATE to approach the Yellow Card as a system as opposed to a sum of it’s parts, 3) Teaching in COMMERCIALIZE a deeper understanding of Synthesis and Right Brain holistic thinking and 4) In SYSTEMS helping students develop their right brain intuitive thinking when approaching system challenges.

Analytical thinking is about optimization of the parts.  Systems thinking  requires a different mindset - a higher order of thinking, focusing on the future, thinking holistically, confronting the reality of the system interconnections - and a courage to renovate not simply optimize.  Remember - more efficiently & effectively doing the wrong thing is not the right thing to do.

Stepping back and looking at the system I am coming to the conclusion that we should focus the skills of our Innovation Engineering Black Belts on the DEVELOPMENT & DELIVERY stages where 90%+ of the time and money are invested in an innovation. 

Recall, we initially took the path of least resistance and focused our energy on what is known as the “fuzzy front end” of innovation.   However, Development and Delivery are where the real work is.  It's where ideas become GREAT.   It's hard work.  And it's also where executives say the biggest challenge with innovation lies.

The good news is Innovation Engineering Black Belts  already have the special skills needed for accelerating innovation development.  Think for a minute about just a few of the skills that Innovation Engineering Black Belts have and how they apply to development and delivery.

  1. A Passion for Strategic Alignment - Study after study finds that lack of strategic alignment is the #1 barrier to innovation success. IE Black Belts are experts at aligning Leadership Strategy (Blue Card) to close to the work innovation (Yellow Card).  This alignment skill is invaluable in keeping a mission focus as different stake holders become involved in development and delivery..
  2. A Learning Mindset:  Stimulus is the fuel for working smarter including: Tech Mining, Wisdom Mining, Market Mining, Insight Mining, Future Mining and Unrelated Mining.  This focus on never ending learning is invaluable in problem solving. AND - it’s a key reason why Innovation Engineering projects grow about 20% in value during development.
  3. Appreciation of the power of diversity - Diversity drives speed.  However leveraging the power of diversity requires facilitating connections and learnings across departments and with outside experts.  The importance of productive debate is most important when in development.
  4. Fanatical Customer Focus: IE Black Belts know that Innovation is in the eye of the customer.  During development - this focus on taking prototypes of various forms to customers to learn from is critical.  It means the customer perceives the idea as being so meaningfully unique - so original that customers are willing to pay more money for it.   It means a focus on Customer, Problem, Promise and Proof.
  5. A Love of Fast Learning Cycles:  IE Black Belts know that rapid Plan, Do, Study, Act cycles of learning are the foundation for reducing risk & increasing speed.  This applies to life - and across all development stages.  Recently a senior executive commented on the new three stage development system of Develop Alpha, Develop Beta, Develop First Release.  He said “Doug, the most important thing you’ve added to the field of product development is your focusing of Development on Customer Feedback Prototypes - this will simultaneously reduce Market, Technology and Organization risk.  In particular I love the new Develop Alpha stage that is focused on Tradeoff Prototypes.”  He went on to explain, “So many times we start development with one engineers idea - with no serious exploration of the consequences on the whole business system. With this approach we will stop and invest some time on alternatives before locking down.”
  6. A Passion for WHOLE Business Systems not Marketing Ideas:  IE Black Belts take responsibility for the whole idea.  They have special skills in doing the math, the sales forecasts, the cost estimates, the pricing.  They have special skills in doing proprietary protection searching and filing provisional patents.  We must work the whole.  Ideas are the easy part.  Making the smart tradeoffs during development are the key to success.

The old “excuse” for not working first on existing projects is a belief that “the ideas are not worth working on.”  Fortunately, even if they are - Innovation Engineering Black Belts know how to make them better and better.

I understand that renovation and acceleration of existing projects is harder than starting with a blank sheet of paper.  And, as the owner of two houses that are each over 150 years old, that my wife and I renovated, I know that renovation can be even more rewarding than fresh photoconstruction. The photo is of our home here in Springbrook Prince Edward Island Canada a wonderful old farm house that was lifted off it’s sandstone foundation and added to - with a combination of engineering excellence and intuitive synthesis.

Happy Canada Day and Fourth of July to All


Doug Hall