disruptive innovation

The Safe Path

The Safe Path

The safe path is the one you already know.
It leads to where you’ve already been.

101One of the things I notice as I work with organizations around the world is that the more expert people are – the better their reputations as knowledgeable doctors or lawyers or engineers or managers – the less likely they are to ask questions they don’t know the answers to. That’s not because they know so much that it’s hard to find such questions. It’s because asking questions you don’t know the answers to reveals your ignorance, and that can be pretty threatening, particularly if you think of yourself as an authority.

Ironically, it’s the very urge to feel knowledgeable that often stops us from knowing more.

Asking questions you already know the answers to is the safest path, to be sure, but it also leads you right back to where you already are.

One of the best ways to discover new territory, new ideas, new possibilities is to ask questions you don’t know the answers to. It’s like launching your own personal Hubble telescope, sharpening your ability to see more, and more clearly, than ever before.

“No, no, you’re not thinking, you’re just being logical.” – NEILS BOHR, Danish physicist (1885-1962)

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Tweak or Freak?

Every business faces challenges and opportunities. Sometimes it’s a question of tweaking — refining a system or product, sanding off its rough edges. Sometimes it’s a question of freaking — replacing the old with something completely new, like reinventing the way we listen to music, fuel our cars, or exchange information.

When you’re tweaking, your best bet is a continuous improvement strategy like Six Sigma. When you’re freaking, you need an innovation strategy like Productive Thinking.

But what about when you’re not sure — when your challenge doesn’t fall neatly into either the tweak or freak category? If you try to tackle an innovation challenge using continuous improvement, you may not address the real issues. And if you try to tackle a continuous improvement challenge using innovation, you may be throwing out the baby with the bath water. How do you decide?

My friend and colleague Jeffrey Phillips of OVO Innovation has developed a simple test that can help. It’s called STRIP — an acronym that stands for Scope, Timeframe, Risk, Investment, and Perspective. Test your challenge with STRIP and you’ll have a pretty good idea whether you should be thinking about tweaking or freaking.

Here’s a short description of how it works:

Scope: If the scope of your challenge involves discrete, incremental changes that can be managed by relatively few people, it’s probably a Six Sigma project. If it involves significant changes with lots of impact, it’s more likely a Productive Thinking project.

Timeframe: If your challenge can be addressed in a relatively short time, you’re in Six Sigma territory. If it will take longer for implementation and payback, it’s probably best addressed through Productive Thinking.

Risk: If implementing the changes carries relatively low risk, it’s Six Sigma. If there are larger risks to manage, you’ll probably want to use Productive Thinking.

Investment: If the investment needed is relatively low, it’s likely a Six Sigma issue. If your investment is likely to be high because you’re changing not a just part of a process, but the whole game, you’ll want to use Productive Thinking.

Perspective: If the impact of the change is mainly internal, it probably belongs in the Six Sigma camp. If the idea will have an impact on customers, prospects, or market as a whole, you’re into innovation territory and will want to use a Productive Thinking approach.

STRIP is a useful way to help you choose the most appropriate methodology to address your challenges. Jeffrey also has many other useful ideas in his book, Make Us More Innovative. If you’re looking for a sound perspective on how to understand and implement innovation processes in your business, you won’t find a better resource. Learn more about Jeffery’s book by clicking Make us More Innovative.

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