The Innovation Edict

by Mike Shipulski

The Innovation EdictThere is a groundswell of interest in innovation across the planet. As historians know, the interest in innovation is cyclic, and this year it’s surely in vogue. Everyone wants more of it, even if we don’t know what it is – we want it. And we want it because we want it; it’s an emotional want. Never mind that we don’t know how to do it, damn it, we’re going to do more innovation come hell or high water. Not knowing how to do innovation is an obstacle, but it can be overcome with the right tools, processes and a good training plan. Our people are capable and willing, so there’s no problem there. But there is a show-stopper out there: the innovation edict is incremental work – it’s another thick layer of work slopped onto our already full plates. Even before the innovation edict, we’re doing two or three jobs, we’ve extended the do-more-with-less mantra beyond the ridiculous, and we’re stretched to the breaking point with workloads that defy all tests of reason. How can we be expected to do more?

The truth of the matter is we cannot do more; we’re already diluted beyond all effectiveness. Any more dilution would be like watering down water with more water. It has no meaning. And what makes the innovation edict especially ludicrous is that innovation requires a lot of thinking time, quality thinking time, uninterrupted thinking time. It’s a thinking person’s sport. And not just mortal thinking, it requires novel thinking, thinking we’ve never done before. Do you have time to think with your current workload? I don’t think so.

Thinking? You’re crazy. We don’t have time to think, we need to do innovation!

As we know, managers have extreme difficulty discerning activity from progress, and not many think that thinking is progress. It sure doesn’t look like activity. If you want to aggravate a manager, sit at your desk and think. When they ask you what you’re doing, tell them you’re thinking. Then watch their face turn colors like a New England foliage.

What do we do about it? The answer comes from Jim Collins – create a stop doing list. We must create innovation bandwidth by stopping work on lower priority activities. Stop. Stop. Stop. And don’t just talk about stopping, actually stop doing things. It’s the only way. Of course this is difficult because it requires prioritization. It requires judgment and guts. And feelings will get hurt because some projects will stop. So be it. Actually, I think major disagreement, anger, and long, difficult meetings are objective evidence that activities are actually stopping. No anger, no difficult meetings, no freed up innovation bandwidth. Do you want to do innovation or just talk about doing innovation?

There’s no free lunch with innovation. Innovation requires our most precious resource – our time.

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Mike ShipulskiDr. Mike Shipulski (certfied TRIZ practioner) brings together the best of TRIZ, Axiomatic Design, Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (2006 DFMA Contributer of the Year), and lean to develop new products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.

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