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STRUCTURE + INNOVATION = PROBLEM

Posted by Percy A Lowe on July 18, 2013 at 6:30 AM

Anyone building a business knows that the key to success is good disciplines. One of the biggest reasons for organizational failure is – well – the lack of organization. Without good structure things fall apart. But wait - there is an important counterintuitive piece to this picture.

 

There are times when structure and discipline can actually get in the way. I realize that some will see this as a sacrilegious idea. We know that all successful companies rely on process and discipline to drive growth, profitability and quality. But in spite of the many experts who are famous for their advice on structure and discipline, let me explain the situation in which discipline is damaging and can get in the way.

 

Most new innovation and creative process requires a suspension of conventional reasoning. In fact, nothing new would happen if we stayed with the learnings of the past. New ideas usually defy current logic or are a departure from conventional wisdom. Most new ideas require new thinking, new approaches and potentially painful changes that we would all like to avoid.

 

In fact, one of the most pathetic ways to create new innovation is to have a formalized and structured program for new innovation. It usually doesn't work. Formalized programs for fostering innovation and creativity often simply smother it. You can bet with high certainty that a lot of time and money is going to be wasted when people try to hook discipline and creativity together. Many new innovations don’t get off the ground because established formal processes are the “way we have always done it” and they are “what made is successful in the first place.” It took major shock treatment to get companies like Ford, IBM, and many others, to break with their old success formula and catch up with the rest of the world. Many other companies never turned the corner and we have forgotten their names.

 

Now that I have advocated for entrepreneurs and the need to make space for new ideas, I must confess that I have seen many creative people destroy good businesses with ideas that didn’t work. So what is the real answer? Well, it’s much like politics, too much red or too much blue can really create distorted perspectives. The problem is no single perspective has an absolute corner on all truth; they all have flaws and some elements of truth. In much the same way, companies that are highly optimized for innovation tend not to have long-term stability (excluding Apple – it’s a freak of nature – oops, just got a message on my iPhone). And companies that have highly optimized operating processes can cease to be agile and can have big problems turning the corner when the market shifts.

 

So we have to make room for both – discipline and entrepreneurship, structure and creativity. There will be tensions, but hey, that’s why we have high paid managers and business owners! (smirk)

Categories: Small Business Managment

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