Archive for the ‘Magic’ Category

Full Circle Innovation

It’s not enough to sell things to customers, because selling things is transactional and, over time, transactional selling deteriorates into selling on price. And selling on price is a race to the bottom.

Sales must move from transactional to relational, where people in the sales organization become trusted advisers and then something altogether deeper. At this deeper level of development, the sales people know the business as well as the customer, know where the customer wants to go and provide unique perspective and thoughtful insight.  That’s quite a thing for sales, but it’s not enough.  Sales must become the conduit that brings the entire company closer to the customer and their their work.

When the customer is trying to figure out what’s next, sales brings in a team of marketing, R&D and manufacturing to triangulate on the future.  The objective is to develop deep understanding of the customer’s world.  The understanding must go deeper than the what’s.  The learning must scrape bottom and get right down to the bedrock why’s.

To get to bedrock, marketing leads learning sessions with the customer.  And it all starts by understanding the work.  What does the customer do? Why is it done that way? What are the most important processes? How did they evolve? Why do they flow the way they do? These aren’t high-level questions, they are low-level, specific questions, done in front of the actual work.

The mantra – Go to the work.

When the learning sessions are done well, marketing includes experts in manufacturing and R&D.  Manufacturing brings their expertise in understanding process and R&D brings their expertise in products and technologies.  And to understand the work the deepest way, the tool of choice is the Value Stream Map (VSM).

Cross-organization teams are formed (customer, sales, marketing, manufacturing, and R&D) and are sent out to create Value Steam Maps of the most important processes.  (Each team is supported by a VSM expert.)  Once the maps are made, all the teams come back together to review the them and identify the fundamental constraints and how to overcome them.  The solutions are not limited to new product offerings, rather the solutions could be training, process changes, policy changes, organizational changes or business model changes.

Not all the problems are solved in the moment.  After the low hanging fruit is picked, the real work begins.  After returning home, marketing and R&D work together to formulate emergent needs and create new ways to meet them.  The tool of choice is the IBE (Innovation Burst Event).

To prepare for the IBE, marketing and R&D formalize emergent needs and create Design Challenges to focus the IBE teams.  Solving the Design Challenges breaks the conflicts creates novel solutions that meet the unmet needs.  In this way, the IBE is a pull process – customer needs create the pull for a solution.

The IBE is a one or two-day event where teams solve the Design Challenges by building conceptual prototypes (thinking prototypes).  Then, they vote on the most interesting concepts and create a build plan (who, what, when).  The objective of the build plan is to create a Diabolically Simple Prototype (DSP), a functional prototype that demonstrates the new functionality. What makes it diabolical is quick build time.  At the end of the IBE is a report out of the build plan to the leader who can allocate the resources to execute it.

In a closed-loop way, once the DSP is built, sales arranges another visit to the customer to demonstrate the new solution.  And because the prototype designed to fulfill the validated customer need, by definition, the prototype will be valuable to the customer.

This full circle process has several novel elements, but the magic is in the framework that brings everyone together.  With the process, two companies can work together effectively to achieve shared business objectives.  And, because the process brings together multiple functions and their unique perspectives, the solutions are well-thought-out and grounded in the diversity of the collective.

Image credit – Gerry Machen

Connection Before Numbers

thankfulCompound annual growth, profit margin, Key Business Indicators, capability indices, defects per million opportunity, confidence intervals, statistical significance, regression coefficients, temperature, pressure, force, stress, velocity, volume, inches, meters, decibels.  The numbers are supposed to tell the story.  But they don’t.

There’s never enough data to see the whole picture. But, even when the discussion is limited to topics covered by the data, people don’t see things the same way.  And even if the numbers were 100% complete, there would be no common interpretation.  And if there was a common interpretation there’d be a range of diverging opinions on how to move forward.  Even with perfect numbers, there is divergence among people.

Numbers are numb. They don’t have meaning until we attach it. And, as entities that attach meaning, we think do it rationally.  But we use past history and fear to assign meaning.  We are not rational, we’re emotional. Even the most rigorous scientist has an obsessive nature, infatuation and deep fascination.  Even when swimming in a sea of data, we’re emotional, and, therefor, irrational.

Excitement, happiness, joy, anxiety, sadness, fear, collaboration, cooperation, competition, respect, disrespect, kindness, love. We live and work in a collection of people systems where emotion carries the day. Emotion and irrationality are not bad, it’s the way it is.  We’re human. And, I’m thankful for it.

But with emotion and irrationality comes connection as part of the matched set.  If you want one, you have to buy all three. And I want connection. Connection brings out the best in people – their passion, energy and love.  When magical things happen at work, connection is responsible. And when magic happens at home, it’s connection.

I’m thankful I have strong connections.

Image credit – Irudayam

Hands-On or Hands-Off?

Hands-on Hands-offHands-on versus hands-off – as a leader it’s a fundamental choice.  And for me the single most important guiding principle is – do what it takes to maintain or strengthen the team’s personal ownership of the work.

If things are going well, keep your hands off.  This reinforces the team’s ownership and your trust in them.  But it’s not hands-off in and ignore them sense; it’s hands-off in a don’t tell them what to do sense. Walk around, touch base and check in to show interest in the work and avoid interrogation-based methods that undermine your confidence in them.  This is not to say a hands-off leader only superficially knows what’s going on, it should only look like the leader has a superficial understanding.

The hands-off approach requires a deep understanding of the work and the people doing it.  The hands-off leader must make the time to know the GPS coordinates of the project and then do reconnaissance work to identify the positions of the quagmires and quicksand that lay ahead.  The hands-off leader waits patiently just in front of the obstacles and makes no course correction if the team can successfully navigate the gauntlet.  But when the team is about to sink to their waists, leader gently nudges so they skirt the dangerous territory.

Unless, of course, the team needs some learning.  And in that case, the leader lets the team march it’s project into the mud.  If they need just a bit of learning the leader lets them get a little muddy; and if the team needs deep learning, the leader lets them sink to their necks.  Either way, the leader is waiting under cover as they approach the impending snafu and is right beside them to pull them out.  But to the team, the hands-off leader is not out in front scouting the new territory.  To them, the hands-off leader doesn’t pay all that much attention.  To the team, it’s just a coincidence the leader happens to attend the project meeting at a pivotal time and they don’t even recognize when the leader subtly plants the idea that lets the team pull themselves out of the mud.

If after three or four near-drowning incidents the team does not learn or change it’s behavior, it’s time for the hands-off approach to look and feel more hands-on.  The leader calls a special meeting where the team presents the status of the project and grounds the project in the now.  Then, with everyone on the same page the leader facilitates a process where the next bit of work is defined in excruciating detail.  What is the next learning objective? What is the test plan?  What will be measured? How will it be measured?  How will the data be presented?  If the tests go as planned, what will you know?  What won’t you know?  How will you use the knowledge to inform the next experiments? When will we get together to review the test results and your go-forward recommendations?

By intent, this tightening down does not go unnoticed.  The next bit of work is well defined and everyone is clear how and when the work will be completed and when the team will report back with the results.  The leader reverts back to hands-off until the band gets back together to review the results where it’s back to hands-on.  It’s the leader’s judgement on how many rounds of hands-on roulette the team needs, but the fun continues until the team’s behavior changes or the project ends in success.

For me, leadership is always hands-on, but it’s hands-on that looks like hands-off.  This way the team gets the right guidance and maintains ownership.  And as long as things are going well this is a good way to go.  But sometimes the team needs to know you are right there in the trenches with them, and then it’s time for hands-on to look like hands-on.  Either way, its vital the team knows they own the project.

There are no schools that teach this.  The only way to learn is to jump in with both feet and take an active role in the most important projects.

Image credit – Kerri Lee Smith

Less Before More – Innovation’s Little Secret

8634449207_861ed9ddbd_zThe natural mindset of innovation is more-centric. More throughput; more performance; more features and functions; more services; more sales regions and markets; more applications; more of what worked last time. With innovation, we naturally gravitate toward more.

There are two flavors of more, one better than the other. The better brother is more that does something for the first time. For example, the addition of the first airbags to automobiles – clearly an addition (previous vehicles had none) and clearly a meaningful innovation. More people survived car crashes because of the new airbags. This something-from-nothing more is magic, innovative, and scarce.

Most more work is of a lesser class – the more-of-what-is class. Where the first airbags were amazing, moving from eight airbags to nine – not so much. When the first safety razors replaced straight razors, they virtually eliminated fatal and almost fatal injuries, which was a big deal; but when the third and fourth blades were added, it was more trivial than magical. It was more for more’s sake; it was more because we didn’t know what else to do.

While more is more natural, less is more powerful. The Innovator’s Dilemma clearly called out the power of less. When the long-in-the-tooth S-curve flattens, Christensen says to look down, to look down and create technologies that do less. Actually, he tells us someone will give ground on the very thing that built the venerable S-curve to make possible a done-for-the-first-time innovation.  He goes on to say you might as well be the one to dismantle your S-curve before a somebody else beats you to it. Yes, a wonderful way to realize the juciest innovation is with a less-centric mindset.

The LED revolution was made possible with less-centric thinking. As the incandescent S-curve hit puberty, wattage climbed and more powerful lights became cost effective; and as it matured, output per unit cost increased. More on more.  And looking down from the graying S-curve was the lowly LED, whose output was far, far less.

But what the LED gave up in output it gained in less power draw and smaller size.  As it turned out, there was a need for light where there had been none – in highly mobile applications where less size and weight were prized. And in these new applications, there was just a wisp of available power, and incandesent’s power draw was too much.  If only there was a technology with less power draw.

But at the start, volumes for LEDs were far less than incandesent’s; profit margin was less; and most importantly, their output was far less than any self-respecting lightbulb.  From on high, LEDs weren’t real lights; they were toys that would never amount to anything.

You can break intellectual inertia around more, and good things will happen. New design space is created from thin air once you are forced from the familiar. But it takes force. Creative use of constraints can help.

Get a small team together and creatively construct constraints that outlaw the goodness that makes your product great. The incandescent group’s constraint could be: create a light source that must make far less light. The automotive group’s constraint: create a vehicle that must have less range – battery powered cars.  The smartphone group: create a smartphone with the fewest functions – wrist phone without Blutooth to something in your pocket , longer battery life, phone in the ear, phone in your eyeglasses.

Less is unnatural, and less is scary. The fear is your customers will get less and they won’t like it. But don’t be afraid because you’re going to sell to altogether different customers in altogether markets and applications. And fear not, because to those new customers you’ll sell more, not less. You’ll sell them something that’s the first of its kind, something that does more of what hasn’t been done before. It may do only a little bit of that something, but that’s far more than not being able to do it all.

Don’t tell anyone, but the next level of more will come from less.

Positivity – The Endangered Species


There’s a lot of negativity around us. But it’s not upfront, unadulterated negativity; it’s behind-the-scenes, hunkering, almost translucent negativity. And it’s divisive.

This type of negativity is so pervasive it’s almost invisible. It’s everywhere; we have processes built around it; have organizations dedicated to it; and we use it daily to drive action.

Take continuous improvement for example. It has been a standard toolset and philosophy for making things better. Yet it’s founded on negativity. It’s not anti-people, anti-culture negativity. (In fact lean and Six Sigma go on their way to emphasize positive culture as a key foundation.) It’s subtle negativity that slowly grinds. Look at the language: reduce defects, eliminate waste, corrective action, tight feedback loops, and eliminate failure modes. There is a negative tint. It’s not in your face, but it’s there.

I’m an advocate of lean and I have advocated for Six Sigma, both of which have moved the needle. But there’s a minimization thread running through them. Both are about eliminating and reducing what is. Sure they have their place, but enough is enough. We need more of creating what isn’t, and bringing to life things that aren’t. We need more maximization.

Negativity has become natural, and positivity has become an endangered species. When there’s a crisis we all come together instinctively to eliminate the bad thing. Yet it’s fourth or fifth nature to come together spontaneously when things go well. Yes, sometimes we celebrate, but it’s the exception. And it’s certainly not our first instinct. (Actually, I don’t think we have a word for spontaneous amplification of positivity. Celebration is the closest word I know, but it’s not the right one.)

Negative feedback is good for processes and positive feedback is good for people. Processes like when their flaws are eliminated, and people like when their strengths are amplified. It’s negativity for processes, and positivity for people.

There should be a rebalancing of negativity and positivity. For every graph of defect reduction over time, there should be a sister plot of the number of good things that happened over time. For every failure mode and effects analysis there should be a fishbone of chart of strengths and the associated actions to amplify them.

It’s natural for us to count bad things and make them go away, and not so natural to count good things and multiply them. Take at the meeting agendas. My bet is there’s far more minimization than maximization.

I usually end my posts with some specific call to action or recommendation. But for this one I don’t have anything all that meaty. But I will tell you how I’m going to move forward. When I see good work, I’m going to publicly acknowledge it and send emails of praise to the manager of the folks who did the good stuff. I’m going to track the number of emails I send and each week increase the number by one. I’m going to schedule regular meetings where I can publicly praise people that display passion. And I’m going to create a control chart of the number of times I amplify positivity.

And most of all I will try to keep in front of me that everything we do is all about people, and with people positivity is powerful.

You might be a superhero if…

You might be a superhero if…

  • Using just dirt, rocks, and sticks, you can bring to life a product that makes life better for society.
  • Using just your mind, you can radically simplify the factory by changing the product itself.
  • Using your analytical skills, you can increase product function in ways that reinvent your industry.
  • Using your knowledge of physics, you can solve a longstanding manufacturing problem by making a product insensitive to variation.
  • Using your knowledge of Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, you can reduce product cost by 50%.
  • Using your knowledge of materials, you can eliminate a fundamental factory bottleneck by changing what the product is made from.
  • Using your curiosity and creativity, you can invent and commercialize a product that creates a new industry.
  • Using your superpowers, you think you can fix a country’s economy one company at a time.


The Bottom-Up Revolution

The No. 1 reason initiatives are successful is support from top management. Whether it’s lean, Six Sigma, Design for Six Sigma or any program, top management support is vital. No argument. It’s easy with full support, but there’s never enough to go around.

But that’s the way it should be. Top management has a lot going on, much of it we don’t see: legal matters, business relationships, press conferences, the company’s future. If all programs had top management support, they would fail due to resource cannibalization. And we’d have real fodder for our favorite complaint—too many managers.

When there’s insufficient top management support, we have a choice. We can look outside and play the blame game. “This company doesn’t do anything right.” Or we can look inside and choose how we’ll do our work. It’s easy to look outside, then fabricate excuses to do nothing. It’s difficult to look inside, then create the future, especially when we’re drowning in the now. Layer on a new initiative, and frustration is natural. But it’s a choice.

We will always have more work than time….

Link to complete article

It’s all about judgement.

It’s high tide for innovation – innovate, innovate, innovate. Do it now; bring together the experts; hold an off-site brainstorm session; generate 106 ideas. Fast and easy; anyone can do that. Now the hard part: choose the projects to work on. Say no to most and yes to a few. Choose and execute.

To choose we use processes to rank and prioritize; we assign scores 1-5 on multiple dimensions and multiply. Highest is best, pull the trigger, and go. Right? (Only if it was that easy.) Not how it goes.

After the first round of scoring we hold a never-ending series of debates over the rankings; we replace 5s with 3s and re-run the numbers; we replace 1s with 5s and re-re-run. We crank on Excel like the numbers are real, like 5 is really 5. Face it – the scores are arbitrary, dimensionless numbers, quasi-variables data based on judgment. Face it – we manipulate the numbers until the prioritization fits our judgment.

Clearly this is a game of judgment. There’s no data for new products, new technologies, and new markets (because they don’t exist), and the data you have doesn’t fit. (That’s why they call it new.) No market – the objective is to create it; no technology – same objective, yet we cloak our judgment in self-invented, quasi-variables data, and the masquerade doesn’t feel good. It would be a whole lot better if we openly acknowledged it’s judgment-based – smoother, faster, and more fun.

Instead of the 1-3-5 shuffle, try a story-based approach. Place the idea in the context of past, present, and future; tell a tale of evolution: the market used to be like this with a fundamental of that; it moved this way because of the other, I think. By natural extension (or better yet, unnatural), my judgment is the new market could be like this… (If you say will, that’s closeted 1-3-5 behavior.) While it’s the most probable market in my judgment, there is range of possible markets…

Tell a story through analogy: a similar technology started this way, which was based on a fundamental of that, and evolved to something like the other. By natural evolution (use TRIZ) my technical judgment is the technology could follow a similar line of evolution like this…. However, there are a range of possible evolutionary directions that it could follow, kind of like this or that.

And what’s the market size? As you know, we don’t sell any now. (No kidding we don’t sell any, we haven’t created the technology and the market does not exist. That’s what the project is about.) Some better questions: what could the market be? Judgment required. What could the technology be? Judgment. If the technology works, is the market sitting there under the dirt just waiting to be discovered? Judgment.

Like the archeologist, we must translate the hieroglyphs, analyze the old maps, and interpret the dead scrolls. We must use our instinct, experience, and judgment to choose where to dig.

Like it or not, it’s a judgment game, so make your best judgment, and dig like hell.

Do Magical Work

We are responsible for our actions, for what we do, for our work, and others are responsible for their response to it. (That’s why they call it responsibility.) Though we know we can’t control others, we still snare ourselves in worry trap: What will they think? Will they like it? What will they say?

Worse than the worry trap, however, is when we actually change our work based on what others will think. A big no-no. We’re asked to do the work because we’re talented, we’re uniquely qualified, we’re the experts. Why do we let opinions of others wield so much power? Who cares what they say. We will let our work speak for itself.

There’s not much in life we have control over, but work is one of them. We control most everything about it: the what and how, the caliber, the tenor. We choose to do marginal work, average work, great work, or magical work.  It’s our choice.  We choose. When we chose to do magical work, its voice powerful enough to drown out the less capable, the politically motivated, and the CEO.

So go do magical work. Do work so good you don’t remember how you did it, so good you don’t think you could do it again, so good it scares you. But be ready – magical work, by definition, is misunderstood.

What will they say about your magic?  It doesn’t matter, magic’s voice will drown them out.

The obligations of knowing your stuff.

If you know your shit, you have an obligation to behave that way:

Do – don’t ask.

Say, “I don’t know.”

Wear the clothes you want.

Tread water with Fear until she drowns.

Walk softly – leave your big stick at home.

Ask people what they think – let them teach you.

Kick Consensus in the balls – he certainly deserves it.

Be kind to those who should know – teach, don’t preach.

Hug the bullies – they cannot hurt you, you know too much.

Work with talented new folks – piss and ginger is a winning combination.

In short, use your powers for good – you have an obligation to yourself, your family, and society.

Obsolete your best work.

You solved a big problem in a meaningful way; you made a big improvement in something important; you brought new thinking to an old paradigm; you created something from nothing. Unfortunately, the easy part is over. Your work created the new baseline, the new starting point, the new thing that must be made obsolete.  So now on to the hard part:  to obsolete your best work

You know best how to improve your work, but you must have the right mindset to obsolete it.  Sure, take time to celebrate your success (Remember, you created something from nothing.), but as soon as you can, grow your celebration into confidence, confidence to dismantle the thing you created. From there, elevate your confidence into optimism, optimism for future success. (You earned the right to feel optimistic; your company knows your next adventure may not work, but, hey, no one else will even try some of the things you’ve already pulled off.)  For you, consequences of failure are negligible; for you, optimism is right.

Now, go obsolete your best work, and feel good about it.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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