The Stage Gate Process Kills True Innovation

Last week’s Thursday Thoughts raised many comments from readers: which has certainly made me think a lot more about innovation in the past week!  Many thanks for those of you that engaged in the conversation!
 
My hypothesis that customers were the best source of innovation was challenged by quite a few!
 
  • Kit thought that innovation stemmed from technology, newbies AND customers;
  • Lucy thought it was all about execution;
  • Jerry echoed Steve Job’s famous saying that “customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them”.  (Apple again!);
  • Joanna highlighted the fact that we can become swamped by the choices that we all face, so that we don’t know what we want;
  • Brian made a great distinction between inventors and designers (very close to my heart);
  • Ryan complained of Apple’s cables and pop-ups and vented his frustrations about spellcheckers and such; and
  • James made a very insightful point “Customers are certainly a good source of innovation, but I read somewhere one of the gurus suggesting the people who weren’t yet customers, or weren’t customers anymore were even better. A bit more difficult to access, but an interesting thought.”
Given that the subject (combined with my rather over-simplistic conclusions) created so many comments, I thought I would carry on with the same theme – though this week look at the process of innovation in great companies.
In my research, I came across a very interesting book: “Winning at Innovation: The A-F Model” by Fernando Trías de Bes and the famous Philip Kotler published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015.
 
There were a few very useful Ideas I have gleaned from the book.  Firstly, on page 16, the authors state that: “the phases or stages of an innovation process cannot be pre-determined, but must emerge as a result of the interaction of a set of functions or roles performed by certain individuals.”
 
This resonated with a thought I had last Sunday that the true source of innovation was probably not the customer, but more likely a passionate,  problem-solver driven to do something new.  Like Steve Jobs – a catalyst that wants to put a “ding in the Universe”.  Somehow this made me feel a lot better, because it meant that this “innovation activist” could really make a difference by simply believing that they could!
The book “Winning at Innovation” called this first role (in their A-F model) an “Activator”.  Perhaps Activator is a better word than an activist.  Less revolutionary and more chemical.  The six roles that they define are:
  • Activators – these are people who will initiate the innovative process without worrying about stages or phases.
  • Browsers – these are the experts searching for information.
  • Creators – The people who produce ideas for the rest of the group.  Their function is to ideate.
  • Developers – People specialised in turning ideas into products.
  • Executors – The people who take care of everything to do with implementation.
  • Facilitators – Those who approve the new spending items and investment needed as the (team-defined) innovation process moves forwards.
The book gives a chapter to each role.  Rather like a Jazz band, the magic only happens when the players perform their parts  with each other by getting “in the groove”.
How far away this model is from the classic “Stage Gate” process!  So many large companies try to institutionalise innovation by forcing new ideas through a series of gates, each gate blocking innovation and creating an economy of scarcity and  innovation prevention agents.  Some might say it is a game and chant “gamification”, but that is not my experience.
Design Process Crossed Out
Innovation is everybody’s job – and everybody’s right!  By defining roles and allowing the players (within a scope / budget / set of objectives) to define their own process (or set the rhythm to their own music), innovation flows naturally.  No need for costly gates and financial cook-books.
 
One wonders whether the corporate and public sector dinosaurs of the 20th Century will be able to adapt to such models in the next 10 years.  I predict that they will really struggle and find it difficult to beat the innovation pioneers who take knock-down the stage gates, put themselves on stage and leave Gates to his philanthropic endeavours!
I call this idea “Presence over Process”.  Think about it.  It really helps if you are struggling to navigate any corporate or government process.
 
Long live the spirit of Jobs and all other innovation activators!
 
That also gives a clue to next week’s piece.  But it probably isn’t the Jobs you think it is!
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Give Thanks! Fire, Aim, Ready.

Last week we explored what it was to be “on purpose”.  The various meanings of the word and the importance of living a purposeful life or working within a purposeful organisation.  It has been very encouraging that so many readers have commented on the post and that the ideas resonated with many of you so well.  Thank you also for the feedback: it is always welcome!  I wish you all success in thinking more about what it is to lead a more purposeful life and continuing the quest to find more meaning in it and in the work you do.

This week I want to deepen that thinking and explore the relationship between purpose and the main aims (or goals) that cause us to line-up the activities that we perform as we go about our day-to-day lives both at home and at work.  I believe that this process is at the heart of what it is to be successful.  Indeed, success is a very personal and subjective thing.  Sure, others might judge your success – but that is by THEIR opinion, not yours.  It is important to shape the factors that will make you successful by moulding them out of what you are and what you want to be.  Sourced from your passions and purpose, as it were.

It is a perfect time of the year to look back and look forwards.  Particularly as today in Thanksgiving in the Americas.  Even if you are not from that part of the world, it is a useful exercise to be grateful for all that has happened to you in the past year and for the friendships and experiences you have had.

At the same time, it is also worth looking forwards.  Thinking about the habits that you want to grow, or the ones that you want to release.  Thinking about the ideas or relationships you want to nurture and the ones you want to celebrate or change.

There is an old phrase “Ready, Aim, Fire” that covers the stages you go through when firing an arrow at a target.  For a bit of amusement, I decided to reverse the order of these three steps to see what new thinking might emerge.  It ended up as  “Fire, Aim, Ready”.  Not a very significant sequence of events if you want to hit a target, you might think.

FIRE

But wait!  What if we use the word “Fire” in some slightly different meanings: FIRE that you are fired-up by – or FIRE when you have a “burning platform” that needs immediate attention – or FIRE when we fire someone from work or a relationship.

If you write down your purpose and underneath put the three or four things that are firing you up at the moment or that they need immediate attention, then FIRE becomes a good first step to deciding the few things on which you should focus.  Either because they are important (as in fired-up) or because they are urgent (as in burning platform) or else you want to be rid of it (as in “you’re fired”).  What few things do you want to add, act on urgently or get rid of in your life?  For me, I have a bonfire worth of business books that have been lying up against the wall on the landing for the past year!

AIM

By listing-out these few aims (or goals) and then understanding what sort of change is needed in your life, you can then try to envisage what life would be like with more (or less) of the factor.  New role at work, more time with family, change-out the car, less time tripping over books.  That sort of thing.
At this stage, it is so important to write these ideas down on a bit of paper.  Sure, a computer will do, but somehow writing them down on paper and referring to them on a regular basis helps speed the process to achieving the aim – and either adding to or subtracting from the fire!  They need to be the bigger things in your life.  Otherwise, you will bury yourself in a long to-do list.  If this happens, try to pick the top five or six ideas and work on them.

READY

If nothing else, by doing this exercise in the next few days, you will be in a better position to shape your ideas, projects and activities as we move into 2016 and be ready to design some bold, boring or fun New Year’s resolutions over the next few weeks ahead of the rush.  Typically, in the past, I have jotted my resolutions down on a paper napkin with a hangover from the holiday period on 1st January and then throw them out with the rest of the excess paper a few days later!  It is only in the past few years that I have become a bit more disciplined – but I still have a way to go.

Writing out your aims and then having the discipline to review them regularly reaps the rewards.  Not least, by the above definition of success, you will be much more effective in aligning your activities to your purpose and living a more fulfilling life!

———-

Next week we will focus on how you can measure your aims (or goals) by breaking each one into a series of defined objectives.  Not only will this allow you to envision more clearly what success looks like, but it will also let you recognise success when you arrive at your destination sometime in the future!

If you are interested in digging deeper into these ideas in the New Year – as well as wanting some help to accelerate success in achieving your aims and objectives, then please do email me at lorne@objectivedesigners.com and I will send you some additional information in December.

And to add a Zen-like koan at the end of all of this just to get you thinking even harder (or not at all):

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” 

Lao Tzu

———-

Oh, and some of you have kindly asked about my friend’s planning application that I wrote about two weeks ago.  The inquiry has been adjourned until 21st December – so we might well not know the outcome until the New Year – but I’ll keep you posted when I know the result!

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The Nature of Reality

I have always been fascinated by debates on the differences between objectivity and subjectivity; art and science; East and West; X and Y.  The truth normally lies somewhere in between.

85 years ago two great minds met in Berlin and debated such issues in what must be one of the most interesting thought pieces in the history of the twentieth century.

einstein-vs-tagore

THE NATURE OF REALITY

Albert Einstein in Conversation with Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore visited Einstein’s house in Caputh, near Berlin, on July 14, 1930. The discussion between the two great men was recorded, and was subsequently published in the January, 1931 issue of Modern Review.

TAGORE: You have been busy, hunting down with mathematics, the two ancient entities, time and space, while I have been lecturing in this country on the eternal world of man, the universe of reality.

EINSTEIN: Do you believe in the divine isolated from the world?

TAGORE: Not isolated. The infinite personality of man comprehends the universe. There cannot be anything that cannot be subsumed by the human personality, and this proves that the truth of the universe is human truth.

EINSTEIN: There are two different conceptions about the nature of the universe—the world as a unity dependent on humanity, and the world as reality independent of the human factor.

TAGORE: When our universe is in harmony with man, the eternal, we know it as truth, we feel it as beauty.

EINSTEIN: This is a purely human conception of the universe.

TAGORE: The world is a human world — the scientific view of it is also that of the scientific man. Therefore, the world apart from us does not exist; it is a relative world, depending for its reality upon our consciousness. There is some standard of reason and enjoyment which gives it truth, the standard of the eternal man whose experiences are made possible through our experiences.

EINSTEIN: This is a realization of the human entity.

TAGORE: Yes, one eternal entity. We have to realize it through our emotions and activities. We realize the supreme man, who has no individual limitations, through our limitations.  Science is concerned with that which is not confined to individuals; it is the impersonal human world of truths. Religion realizes these truths and links them up with our deeper needs. Our individual consciousness of truth gains universal significance. Religion applies values to truth, and we know truth as good through our harmony with it.

EINSTEIN: Truth, then, or beauty, is not independent of man?

TAGORE: No, I do not say so.

EINSTEIN: If there were no human beings any more, the Apollo Belvedere no longer would be beautiful?

TAGORE: No!

EINSTEIN: I agree with this conception of beauty, but not with regard to truth.

TAGORE: Why not?   Truth is realized through men.

EINSTEIN: I cannot prove my conception is right, but that is my religion.

TAGORE: Beauty is in the ideal of perfect harmony, which is in the universal being; truth is the perfect comprehension of the universal mind. We individuals approach it through our own mistakes and blunders, through our accumulated experience, through our illumined consciousness. How otherwise can we know truth?

EINSTEIN: I cannot prove, but I believe in the Pythagorean argument, that the truth is independent of human beings. It is the problem of the logic of continuity.

TAGORE:  Truth, which is one with the universal being, must be essentially human; otherwise, whatever we individuals realize as true, never can be called truth. At least, the truth which is described as scientific and which only can be reached through the process of logic—in other words, by an organ of thought which is human. According to the Indian philosophy there is Brahman, the absolute truth, which cannot be conceived by the isolation of the individual mind or described by words, but can be realized only by merging the individual in its infinity. But such a truth cannot belong to science. The nature of truth which we are discussing is an appearance; that is to say, what appears to be true to the human mind, and therefore is human, and may be called maya, or illusion.

EINSTEIN: It is no illusion of the individual, but of the species.

TAGORE: The species also belongs to a unity, to humanity.  Therefore the entire human mind realizes truth; the Indian and the European mind meet in a common realization.

EINSTEIN: The word species is used in German for all human beings; as a matter of fact, even the apes and the frogs would belong to it. The problem is whether truth is independent of our consciousness.

TAGORE: What we call truth lies in the rational harmony between the subjective and objective aspects of reality, both of which belong to the superpersonal man.

EINSTEIN: We do things with our mind, even in our everyday life, for which we are not responsible. The mind acknowledges realities outside of it, independent of it. For instance, nobody may be in this house, yet that table remains where it is.

TAGORE: Yes, it remains outside the individual mind, but not the universal mind. The table is that which is perceptible by some kind of consciousness we possess.

EINSTEIN: If nobody were in the house the table would exist all the same, but this is already illegitimate from your point of view, because we cannot explain what it means, that the table is there, independently of us. Our natural point of view in regard to the existence of truth apart from humanity cannot be explained or proved, but it is a belief which nobody can lack—not even primitive beings. We attribute to truth a superhuman objectivity. It is indispensable for us—this reality which is independent of our existence and our experience and our mind—though we cannot say what it means.

TAGORE: In any case, if there be any truth absolutely unrelated to humanity, then for us it is absolutely non-existing.

EINSTEIN: Then I am more religious than you are!

TAGORE: My religion is in the reconciliation of the superpersonal man, the universal spirit, in my own individual being.

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Jesus, a Charlie!

The headlines in January seem to have been dominated by debate about the rights of free speech over the balance of respect of the rights and beliefs of others in society.  I’m for balance.  If I believe in something where expressing it might hurt others, I will try to shut up and not be deliberately rude.  Sometimes what I say is taken the wrong way and I am seen as rude.  For that I am sorry.

The skill, surely, is to phrase words and draw pictures so that you get the point over, without deliberately offending the other party or directly challenging their own value system.  And this doesn’t have to be political correct blah-blah if done well enough.

asterix

I have spoken to many friends and relatives about this issue in the past month – and most agree  with this line.  Oh, and just as an aside, I noticed that JeSuis Charlie” has an uncanny resemblance to “Jesus Charlie”.  Strange.

And to call someone “a bit of a Charlie”, apparently, used to be leveled at a person who did not speak the King’s English.  

Although on YouTube, Charlie bit my finger – again (with 801m hits), is a baby who bites his brother’s finger:

Perhaps I need to understand the French culture better to understand this whole thing in context?  At the moment it is beyond me.

Cartoon from the Independent

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The End of the Break

As we come to the end of the summer break, for most of us, school, university or work starts afresh.  I say, for most because, like with all generalisations, there are always those who break the rule.  An increasing number of friends seem to be moving into “retirement” or “semi-retirement” – breaking the pattern of a life-time by taking more time off.  Two of my children are starting University – a break from the long years of study at school to the less structured, more fun time at Uni.

And the little word “break” got me thinking.  It seems to have so many meanings. It runs to many definitions in the dictionary – both as a verb and as a noun.  It can be:

  • destructive (as in – “break a glass”)
  • illegal (as in “breaking the speed limit”)
  • liberating (as in “break out of old patterns”)
  • exciting (as in “breaking news”)
  • disappointing (as in “break my heart”)
  • the point of profit (as in “break-even”)
  • time to eat (as in “breakfast”)
  • very confusing for someone not fluent in English (as in “break a leg”)

For such a little word, it has so many different subtle meanings and so many different ways to combine itself with other words to mean so many different things!

break-glass-in-fire-sign

Yet, with all of this, I always see the start of September as the opportunity to break from the past and focus on the future.  For some reason, even more so than with Christmas or Easter.  Perhaps we are all subconsciously programmed by the school year – whether as students, former students or parents.  Yet there are those who will always break the mould and find other beginnings and endings in their year and not agree with me.

Great word “break”.

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Inventories, Unread Books and Generation Why

Last week there were no Thursday Thoughts.  I was in Edinburgh and thinking far too much to write about it.  Today I had to go up to London and got writer’s block until a chance Skype conversation with Malcolm about random stuff.  It got my right brain going and I am now back in the flow.

In much of the work I do, I am drawn to creating order from chaos by documenting the present situation.  One very useful tool is to take an inventory of what is.  A version of the truth that is accurate enough to be good enough.  It is like the difference between German and British accounting: German accounting is always exactly wrong: British accounting is almost roughly right!

So it was I was chatting to Malcolm on Skype who was listening to Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time – a discussion on James Joyce’s UlyssesAt the start of the talk, Bragg points out that it is one of the most famous books of the last century – and one that few have read cover-to-cover – myself included.

It got me thinking about the fact that 95% of books are never read.  Mine included……

So I thought, what about an inventory of all the books I have – and then work out how many I have actually read?  More than 1,000 books – and less than 5% read?   I suppose that the types of books I collect are not novels.  They are more like factoid books, text books, “how to” books.  Bee books, personal development books.  I don’t read novels.  My father used to say “Life has enough drama in it that I don’t need to go to the theatre”.  I think the same about reading books.

So the inventory, used with the mirror, forces to look at yourself, your behaviour, your reality.  But the Skype conversation I was (and still am) having with Malcolm on this touched on another interesting thread.  The fact that I am of a generation where physical books represents learning, knowledge and intelligence.  But for my children, the world is very different.  An Amazon Kindle could contain the same number of books as on my bookshelves and many more besides.  For generation Y (which I call Generation Why – because they always seem to be asking the question Why?)  the value of owning physical books is almost diametrically opposite to mine.  To take an inventory of Apps on my MacBook (which I also collect) takes less than 5 seconds.  The software can be updated across the internet when new versions arrive.  Information is more transient.  More connected, near-free to produce.

So what?  Well it is time for me to start to clear the clutter of my bookshelves.  To stop ordering physical books on Amazon.  To change my behaviour.  One of the most difficult things to do.  But the inventory and the mirror are perhaps the most powerful tools to help change behaviour.  Question is whether I can  reduce my inventory without being distracted by workload, the bees, the dogs, the children – oh and that urge to go onto Amazon to buy another book on my Wish List!

Time for an inventory.  Time to put the mirror up!  It works with clients – but is so much harder to do to oneself!

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The Universal Relaton Field

Whilst away at Easter I started to read Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell’s book “Godhead: The Brain’s Big Bang” which was published last year.  It is the latest accumulation of Griffin and Tyrell’s ideas on the Human Givens, and the importance of the REM state in sleep and the Universal Relaton Field.  Yet to list out the other many ideas in the book is impossible.

What is impressive about the work is that it attempts to bring a set of organising ideas to some of the BIG questions that mankind has asked since the beginning of history such as: “What is consciousness?” and “How was time created?”.  It gives some very interesting frameworks for understanding the universe by relating concepts like the big bang theory to the development of the human mind.

By drawing on their previous ideas of caetextia (or context blindness), the authors link the development of the human brain to the two very separate ways that we think: left-brained thinking and right-brained thinking.  This is very similar to the System 1 and System 2 in Kahneman’s “Thinking, fast and slow” which I reviewed a few Thursdays ago.

However, Griffin and Tyrell (being psychoanalysts) bring out some very interesting new theories on how the human mind developed to become more conscious – both to become more objective (or left-brained) as well as subjective (right-brained).  Each half of the brain (in balance) creates a rounded self-consciousness which connects both sides of the brain for human living.  However, too much focus on the path towards objectivity (which they also call the arc of descent) creates a tendency towards scientific genius and autism.   Too much focus on subjectivity (or the arc of ascent) creates art and a tendency for certain folk to become schizophrenic.  They also suggest that mood swings, depression and bipolar disorder are, perhaps a mixture of both without the ability to create balance between the halves – and yet have also produced many of our most creative geniuses such as Robert Schumann, John Keates, William Blake, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, Peter Gabriel and Spike Milligan…..and their list goes on much longer (p.96)!

However, the book is far more than a set of ideas on the development of the physical brain and mental health.  In the second and third parts of the book, the authors bring together a set of very powerful organising ideas on how human consciousness connects with the “one-ness” of the Universe through an invisible field of “relatons”.  Since only 4% of the Universe is made up of matter that is visible (detectable by radiation), the authors believe that the field of relatons (or subjective matter) is contained somewhere within the remaining 96%.  These relatons have some very interesting properties.  They are undetectable (like all dark matter).  They are also capable of relationships with solitons (objective matter) and are always generating consciousness (or information).  And when two solitons are joined as matter, relatons are released!

The struggle that the mind has in balancing between objectivity and subjectivity (and the ability of such thinking to drive us mad in the process) was well narrated in the timeless classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”over 30 years ago – which had a major influence on my thinking at the time.  The authors suggest that this balance-of-two-halves-in-time (between the two sides of the mind) appears to echo the same dance that plays out from the largest to the smallest objects in the Universe and that somehow time breathes in and out between objective and subjective states through states of probability.

The book is not just analytical and mind-stretchingly interesting.  It intersperses spiritual stories and poems – and one of my favourites is here:

“How often do you sense that there is a profound meaning in a poem but, without an organising idea to consolidate it, you can’t hold on to it and it slips away from consciousness?  T.S.Eliot knew this, as we see from other lines of his great “Burnt Norton”, where he reveals his intuitive grasp of the nature of truth but also that he is aware of the failure of words to hold on to what he has grasped:

Words, after speech reach

Into the silence.  Only by the form, the pattern,

Can words or music reach

The stillness, as a Chinese jar still

Moves perpetually in its stillness.

Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,

Not that only, but the co-existence,

Or say that the end precedes the beginning,

And the end and the beginning were always there

Before the beginning and after the end.

And all is always now.  Words strain,

Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,

Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,

Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,

Will not stay still.

Overall, the book presents a fascinating set of ideas and theories which draw on thinking from our latest understanding of the physical brain, quantum mechanics, spirituality, creativity and the development of mental illnesses – and much more besides.  Big ideas which the book far better articulates on over 450 pages than I can in this short article.

I remain fascinated on how we can apply some of the ideas to the areas of Information Management and Organisational Design.  My previous article on Organisational Caetextia started to explore some of these themes.  Expect more to follow – particularly with colonies of bees interwoven in the stories!

I hope that it makes some of you interested enough to buy what I think is one of the best books I have read in the past year.

Picture: (c) iStockphoto not to be reproduced without licence.

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