Archive for: December, 2010

Balance innovation and continuous improvement


All of us know that if you we want to make sweeping changes, we need to innovate. If done incrementally (in small improvements), it won’t attract much attention. FedEx became a success story as they changed people’s expectations (absolutely, positively overnight) of delivery services, delivered on their promise and charged a premium for it.  However, innovation projects are never “complete”.

Since then, FedEx has embarked on continuous improvement of their “absolutely, positively overnight” service. One such improvement is information sharing. Every shipper and receiver (or anyone with the tracking #) can find out exactly where the shipment is at a particular point in time. FedEx customers may not need all the information that they provide but making the information available will only enhance the credibility of the

One more point to note is that radical innovations are risky, too. Not all of them will succeed. So, you should ensure that there is a “tolerance” for failure at your workplace. Second, you should be willing to emotionally detach from this failure and embark on the next innovation project. Whenever an capm test succeeds, the next immediate step would be to put that project on a “continuous improvement” roadmap. Because no project is really “complete”.

In summary take a look at all the projects that are taking place in your life and it’s easy to categorize each one of them under “Innovation” or “Continuous Improvement”. If there are no innovation projects, there is a serious problem. If there are past innovation projects that are not  under a “Continuous improvement” plan, there is an issue too. The beauty is in balancing the Innovation and Continuous Improvement initiatives.


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The flip side of uncertainty

When we present new ideas that are better or different to what currently exists they carry the weight of uncertainty. This is a problem we all face. . And everything right now, everyone says, is uncertain. But just like there’s a flip side to everything the same applies to uncertainty.

See this exchange between Patch Adams and Arthur Mendelson from the Movie Patch Adams:

Where is innovation going?

I spotted and thought I’d repost here to get your responses.

What’s more valuable, being awesome of being innovative? I’m sure most people can tell you what’s awesome but can’t tell you what’s innovative. There’s a reason for this.

Innovation has lost it’s definition, everyone has their own definition. Because innovation is really a matter of perception, what’s innovative to one person is not for another. Ex. FaceTime is innovative here but not in Japan. This creates a problem with defining innovation and ultimately applying it the world over.

The world is becoming more interconnected and the assumption is that there should/will be more ‘innovation’. Innovation has always been here, it’s a fundamental human process. The only difference now is that more people will become aware of it and might be encouraged to do it because interconnectedness creates more opportunities. But more likely a lot of crap is going to be created and lot less of what really matters is not going to be created.

Yet the crap that doesn’t matter actually serves to create the stuff that does, because someone will be dissatisfied and will me motivated to do something better. ‘Less is more’ will never be more important. We’ll institute innovation as a matter of ‘being’ yet it will be taken to extremes. The word innovation will cease to make sense and won’t be able to differentiate. . Does what you do matter to people?

Bottom line: Let’s change the question to where do we want innovation to go? The intent behind it is what’s going/needs to change.

Let it rip, what do you really think?

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Innovation posts of the week: How Aha! Really Happens

On starting from scratch


The old musicians stay where they are and become like museum pieces under glass, safe, easy to understand, playing that tired old shit over and over again…Bebop was about change, about evolution. It wasn’t about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change. – Miles Davis

One post that caught my attention in the last few weeks was how U2 gets ideas for it’s songs, specifically this comment by Bono on why starting from scratch can be the fastest way to a solution:

“That song [Where the streets have no name] was recorded, so there was a version of it on tape. That version had quite a lot of problems. What we kept doing was spending hours, days and weeks… probably half the time that the whole album took was spent on that song, trying to fix this version on tape. It was a nightmare of screwdriver work. My feeling is it was just better to start again. I’m sure we would get there quicker if we’d start again. It’s more frightening to start again, because there’s nothing. So my idea was to stage an accident. To erase the tape so we’d just have to start again.” – Brian Eno”

Starting from scratch sounds like a big waste of time, yet starting from scratch is at the center of creative thinking. I’m dumbfounded when I get asked for practical ideas that worked for someone else (usually competitor) and how they can best replicate it. This is the opposite of creative thinking and what most people fail to understand is that starting from scratch is highly rewarding. It’s like reformatting your computer and then starting with a fresh new installation!

Do it as if nothing

As a Ninjutsu practitioner, I understand very well the concept of mushin (no mind). Unlearning what you’ve learned and being open to whatever a situation presents and being able to adapt to it without thinking.

When you first start out in Ninjutsu you will immediately notice that nothing goes according to plan. Most of the stuff that you’re taught at the beginning is meant to ‘de-routinize’ your mind. To see it free.

Much like in other domains, most students will learn techniques and try to implement them ‘as they learned them’. Meaning they look at a scenario with similarities to how that technique was taught. This is a big no-no for there are an infinite number or techniques and they can all be applied in any point in time, you just have to go with whatever comes and do it as if nothing. As if you’ve done it before.

Develop mental flow

True Nimpo is really practiced when you get rid of the technique, you never show your technique to your opponent. Your movements should be human like, not mechanical. They should flow. Techniques are taught to us and sometimes we’re more concerned in applying in them just as the book says or as the Sensei says. While you may get rewarded for having beautiful technique, in the real world applying it won’t be so. You have to keep your mind open to whatever situation presents itself and respond as fluidly as possible. Be in the moment.

The element of water is what best describes flow, as water easily adapts to the environment.

Keep the mind moving

To develop mental flow, think of the mind as a river: that faster it flows, the better it keeps up with the present and responds to change. The faster it flows, also the more it refreshes itself and the greater it’s energy. Obsessional thoughts, past experiences and preconceived notions are like boulders or mud in this river, settling and hardening there and damming it up. The river stops moving, stagnation sets in. You must wage constant war on this tendency of the mind.

Superior strategists see things as they are. They are highly sensitive to dangers and opportunities. Nothing ever stays the same, and keeping up with circumstances as they change requires a great deal of mental fluidity. Great strategists do not act according to preconceived ideas; they respond to the moment. Like children, their minds are always moving, and they are always excited and curious. They quickly forget the past because the present is much too interesting.

Closing thoughts…

Just like Martial Arts have unlimited techniques and all of them can be applied to any scenario, so it is in other domains such as business. They’re not mechanical in nature. You train to be perfect but in the real world where unpredictability reigns, you have to be in the moment and respond as if nothing.

Understand: the most creative strategists stand out not because they have more knowledge but because they are able, when necessary, to drop their preconceived notions and focus intensely on the present moment. That is how creativity is sparked and opportunities are seized.

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