Innovation ALWAYS Demands We Change the Rules
How do you feel about the proposition:
“Innovation can bring benefits if and ONLY if it diminishes a limitation”
Let’s examine this proposition. Do you agree with it? Don’t be too hasty in coming to agree with it. Once we agree, you’re hooked! So, let me explain a little more, starting with some definitions:
We’re talking here about all kinds of innovations. Not just tech innovations (new materials, new languages and tools, new industrial processes, new scientific discoveries) but other innovations too (new ways of doing things, new ways of structuring and managing organisations, new ways of developing products and software, plus many others).
What do we mean by “limitation”? A limitation here is anything that restricts us from getting our needs met to the maximum possible extent. (And btw that maximum is, itself, a limitation).
Limitations can be “recognised” (for example, a speed limit on a motorway) or unrecognised (for example the physical speed limit for a given curve, with a given vehicle, in specific road conditions).
Examining the Proposition
So, back to the proposition: “Innovation can bring benefits if and ONLY if it diminishes a limitation.”
Do you agree?
We were alive and functioning even before the innovation became available. Correct? It must be, then, that long before the new innovation, we developed modes of operation, modes of behaviour, policies, rules, to accommodate the limitation. I’ll refer to all these as simply “rules”.
We were able to operate. Rather than run smack into the limitation and die. That’s obvious.
Before the innovation, we created certain rules to cope with the limitation (recognised or unrecognised, known to us or unknown).
Suppose, then that we make a very good job of implementing an innovation, and thereby diminish the associated limitation totally. Still, the question is:
What benefits will any innovation bring, if we neglect to change the rules? The rules that helped us to accommodate the limitation, before the innovation was available? What benefits will we see if we neglect to change the rules?
Do you start to see the answer?
The Old Rules Block Any Benefits
What benefits will we see if we neglect to change the rules? Basically, no benefits. None. Why? Because as long as we obey the old rules – the rules that were there to bypass the limitation – for as long as we obey these rules, for all practical purposes we will continue to behave as if the limitation is still there.
Can it be that we’re so stupid that we continue to adhere to our old rules, the rules we originally invented to bypass or cope with the limitation? You know the answer.
This is what is happening every day, for the vast majority of organisations, and for the vast majority of innovations they adopt. For a long time after adopting the innovation we still obey the old rules. And because of this, for a long time we don’t get any of the real benefits from our investment in the innovation.
Four Not So Frequently Asked Question
So, how might we proceed if we need to ensure that innovations really do bring us the promised bottom-line benefits? We might choose to ask ourselves the following sequence of four questions:
Q1: What is the POWER of the innovation? (Just ask the inventors, they’ll be more than glad to explain, and explain, and explain…).
Q2: What limitation does this innovation diminish? (We must find a specific and precise answer, here).
Q3: What existing rules served to help us accommodate that limitation (i.e. what obsoleted rules we must get rid of)? Here we can for the first time evaluate the tangible bottom-line benefits from removing those old rules). (Note: As long as the old rules remain in force, we will never see the promised benefits from the innovation). Ch1 11:10
Q4: What (new) rules must we use now (in place of the old rules which the innovation has obsoleted)?
Let me give you an example. Let’s take Agile Software Development as our innovation.
Q1: What is the POWER of Agile Software Development?
A1: Agile Software Development increases the likelihood that we’re developing software that meets our customers’ real needs.
Q2: What limitation does Agile Software Development diminish?
A2: Risk of misunderstanding customers’ real needs, both now and as they evolve.
Q3: What existing rules served to help us accommodate that limitation?
A3: Contractual terms. Big up-front specifications. Rigorous plan-driven project management. Change control. Specific duration projects. Formal V&V. One-off or infrequent release into production.
Q4: What (new) rules must we use now?
A4: Development and delivery as experiments. Short, tight feedback loops. Constant collaboration between customers and developers. Constantly evolving specifications and solutions. Multiple “stop/continue” checkpoints. Incremental and frequent release into production.
Try It For Yourself
Here’s some other innovations we see introduced in e.g. software development organisations. Try running through the above four questions for one or more items on this list:
- Teams / team-based development.
- Obeya (big-room).
- TPDS (Toyota Product Development System).
- Lean Product Development.
- Cost of Delay.
- Pyton, ELM, or some other new language or tool you may be considering adopting.
- Self-organisation / self-management.
- Servant Leadership.
- Serious Play.
- Continuous Improvement.
- [Your own favourite innovation].
We Must Change the Rules
“Human beings cannot progress unless somehow they do things differently today from the way they did them yesterday.”
~ Shigeo Shingo
So now we can see that the real effort we must make is NOT in adopting new innovations, but in changing the rules. And these rules are manifest in the assumptions-in-action, the collective mindset, the culture, of an organisation. This, btw, is the central message of Rightshifting and the Marshall Model.
Beyond the Goal ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt (Audiobook only)