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When to Upgrade Your Innovation

Innovation is commonly talked about when discussing products. The market is very keen on product innovation and is always willing to pay for the next best “mouse-trap”. Innovation, however, can be applied to a broader criteria to include any problem solving initiative. You can innovate a process, an organizational structure, or even a technology.

Innovation actually means:

  • A new idea, device or method
  • The act or process of introducing new ideas, devices or methods.

Based on my experience, the simpler the innovation, the bigger the improvement (the KIS concept – keep it simple). In the true spirit of innovating, we look for something better. However, innovation is killed by the mind-set of, “if it is not broke, don’t fix it.” How then do you drive innovation and not just change for change’s sake?

May I offer the following suggestions:

  • Determine the real issues/problems and PRIORITIZE. Too many times we fix the small things only to drive bigger problems resulting in less innovation. The Law of Unintended Consequences can take some of the fun out of innovation.
  • Do a pilot. A friend of mine who worked in the Oil Industry liked saying, “It’s better to pump 50 gallons of water through the pipeline looking for leaks rather than 500 gallons of oil.” In other words, test yourself.  When innovating products, use rapid prototyping. When innovating processes, pilots are used. Using a defined small sub-section ensures you can work out the kinks to ensure it really is BETTER.
  • Identify the metric that you can show a before/after look. Did the innovation really make something better? Use real numbers in order to forecast future numbers. Don’t sugar coat it. If the innovation didn’t work – tell someone.

Driving a mind-set of innovation into a culture starts with showing the team that innovation works – find a problem and fix it. If the pilot doesn’t work, change your assumptions and/or your variables and try again. You know you can.

Be intentional,

Change isn’t about the loose coins in your pocket

Well, it’s a new year. Change is in the air. Resolutions are made. Resolutions are broken. My husband jokes that the only change he likes is if it is loose and in his pocket. You know the old saying, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Change is always hard. It is even harder when we are surprised. So we try to anticipate it. We try to imagine what is coming or what will be, so that we are not surprised.

Sometimes this is good! Anticipating what may happen allows us to mitigate risk, plan ahead and be ready to act in a moment notice. Sometimes it is not so good. It causes rumors. It causes drama and takes our energies off the tasks we know are happening.

So what do you do? When do you anticipate and when do you not?

1. If the change in question has little effect on your day to day job, no mitigation plan required.

2. If the change in question has no effect on any decisions you have to make, no mitigating plan is required.

3. If the change in question directly changes a process you are responsible for, time to think through mitigation plans.

4. If the change in question directly changes how you make a decision, time to think through mitigation plans.

Be intentional

Is the glass really half empty?

half_fullStudent 1: The glass is half empty
Student 2: The glass is half full
Teacher: Maybe you’re just using the wrong sized glass

According to my husband, it’s an annoying trait but I happen to be someone who believes that every problem has a solution. There may not be an immediate fix, nor may the solution deliver the “forecasted extreme pay off”.
However, I do believe that problems have solutions.

When you find yourself giving up, stalling on a way forward, or just feeling defeated – here are a few actions I take that I have found to re-energize my quest for a solution set:

Ask Yourself a Hard Question
Nobody likes admitting they aren’t perfect. If I find myself with the situation where the answers seem elusive, I’ll “stop, drop, and ask” myself if I’m really trying to solve the problem or trying to change a symptom. Addressing the real problem can go a long way to fixing a lot of symptoms. Ensuring you are working the problem not the symptom is crucial.

Re-look at everything with fresh mindset
I’m a fan of murder mysteries. Columbo was my hero. When a case would stump him, he would take a step back and re-look at the entire data set but with a fresh perspective. Similarly, some problems require multiple solution sets. It could take more than one action, or changing more than one thing, for a solution to solve the problem. Meaning, you may need to take a step back and revisit the entire “spiderweb” again in order to detect the pattern and find the right “thread” to pull on.

Change the game
My dad taught me how to play checkers. We played and played until one day I started beating him. Then one day he showed up at the dining room table with a chessboard. All new rules. All new strategy. In fact, a whole new game. In our work life, sometimes the problem is that the game changes and I find myself still playing checkers when I should be playing chess. When this occurs, I have to put away one board (set of rules) and align myself to the new board (learn a new set of rules) and keep playing.

So the next time you find that your moves or tactics aren’t working to solve the problem – it may be time to ask yourself the hard questions, revisit your assumptions and change the game.

Be intentional

The ever changing role of the SME


Surfing the SME change (photo by jay holobach, vero beach)

In business we have all been faced with losing our Subject Matter Expert or “Smee”. Planning for single point failures, having a talent bench (succession plan), and investing in training the team are all ways to manage a strong foundation if a SME is required for your business.

But what do you do when it’s the “subject” that changes and not the “expert”? What happens when your business need shifts and the SME is no longer the SME – then what? What if the SME can’t change their spots quick enough and can’t provide the “answers” like they used to – then what? A harder question, what if you are the SME? Let’s look at both scenarios.

Scenario A – When the world changes around your SME
Time to think about hiring for the gap.
The faster you address the need, the quicker you can secure your company’s future success. If you wait too long even a new SME may not be able to fix the gap. Time waits for very few, if any.

Time to look into the organization.
Is there someone that has the mindset, talent, and flexibility to ramp up into the new SME? If you think about it, every SME had to start somewhere due to some circumstance. I think back to my early days in the automotive industry when, as a lowly engineer, I was called upon to explain my team’s Artificial Intelligence project to a VP. I had to step into an uncomfortable SME role. Even though I didn’t “feel” ready, I had to go forward.

Time to secure your business plan.
SMEs not only provide expertise, they do it fast. By recognizing that you might not get the answers at the speed you are used to, you can overcome the lag by adding time -where beneficial- to the schedule or maybe it’s hiring two people where you used to have one, etc. Organizing around the need will allow you time to re-establish the expertise you need. Be careful of getting stuck in the “way we used to do it” paradigm.

Scenario B – When you are the SME who’s world has changed around you
You remember the old saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

I have a friend in IT. He’s a mainframe programmer who learned early on in his career that he always needed to learn the most recent programming languages to keep his SME-ness intact. He never wanted to be the “old guy” (his words, not mine) in the corner that everyone laughed at because he couldn’t cut code with the “kids” (again, his words, not mine.)

What he found over the last 10 years is that all of his experience is now being recognized because he learned to be flexible, stay curious, and realize nothing stays the same forever. His chosen field, by nature, is a constantly shifting sand of technology. He figured out that if you are constantly learning new things, you most likely can “surf the change wave”.

However, like a wave, change can sometimes overtake you. What then? Embrace it. Fighting it won’t help you or the company. Look for how you can take what you know and contribute to the team’s success. I recently asked my friend – what if there’s a new code that you can’t learn fast enough? He replied, “I could become a project lead in a heartbeat.” In other words, he could take his SMEness and adapt the role. Could you?

In summary, a SME’s role can change due to many factors. What’s important is to realize that just because the “subject matter” may have changed does not mean the SME can’t still offer value.

Be intentional

Change can be more than what’s loose and in your pocket

Change is something that most people do not like, or at least they say they don’t. Or as my husband is fond of saying, “I like change, as long as it is loose and in my pocket.” Yet for all the unknowns change brings, I happen to like change.

Change comes in many forms like trying a new restaurant, trying something new from the menu, exploring a new location, or even doing something I have never done before. However, change can be disconcerting because you do not know what the outcome will be. You may not like the food you try, you may get lost in a new area, and you may fail at the (new) task you try.

I know you’ve heard this said at least a million times, “But we’ve always done it this way.” And there are certain things that should adhere to “doing it like we did before” – I can’t imagine the folks in accounting walking in one day and saying, yup, we didn’t feel like doing the year-end reporting like before so we tried something new…

Change opens up uncertainty, the possibility of failure, and will increase your stress but without it, you never discover new things or develop and improve. When companies and organizations go through the journey of change, it takes the whole team coming together to make the change journey successful.

Here are a few key things that a healthy team can do to embrace change… and it’s really some of the “same old things” such as:

  • Communicate. Share what you know, when you know it.
  • Ensure you “bubble up” questions, seek answers and take time to listen.
  • Follow the change through to the end. (Since it’s almost football season, here’s an analogy – don’t get to the one yard line and say you’re done, get into the end zone and then say it’s done).
  • Support each other through the stress. Some days you will be stressed, other days your teammates will be. Help each other through the stress.
  • Keep focused on the journey. When you have a bad day, when you feel you have taken a step backwards – brush it off and tackle the new day with a fresh outlook.

Be intentional

Five Amazing Technologies that still amaze me

While working at General Motors a new technology came out that was going to revolutionize the way we worked, eliminate paper, save time, and make us more productive. Inter-office memos were a thing of the past.

It was 1987 and the technology that was going to revolutionize the work world? The desktop computer. My boss fought to get one in his department of 200 employees. He was the only one who had “the computer” but he never used it. It just sat there staring at you when you went in his office. One day, I asked him why he never used it. He said he didn’t even know how to turn it on. I chuckle every time I remember that conversation.

As I wrote this blog on my iPhone, I thought about how far technology’s reach has become and how it’s changed my personal and business life. Today, I am as close as I have ever been to being paperless. Seamless communication can occur anywhere in the world and yes, to me, that is a truly amazing thing. I just wanted to share with you my top five “Amazing Technologies”:

GPS Navigation
When I used to travel for work I’d have to get out a paper map and figure out how to get from point A to point B. Now, I no longer use maps or even ask for directions. A small voice on my phone tells me where I am and where to turn.

Information flows real-time 24/7/365 on my phone. I can help ensure information gets to the person who needs it most. Although, I would caution you to create some personal and professional lines when using this piece of technology. Your professional and personal can blur in a heartbeat if not managed.

Texting / emails
Back in the day, we had a “formal business letter”. Transcribed by the pool administrative assistants it was then placed in either an internal memo pouch or in an envelope and dropped off in the mail room for distribution. Snail mail. Now, information flows as fast as I can type on my phone and hit the send button whether that’s a text or an email message.

Email Attachment(s)
Do you appreciate the ease with which you can scan an image or document and send instantly? Even after emails were in use, certain documents still had to be mailed via snail mail. Not anymore. I’m amazed by something as simple as a PDF document.

Video conferencing
At DaimlerChrysler we had 8-hour global meetings with real-time video conferencing. I would walk into a conference room and my German counterpart sat at the end of the conference table on a computer screen. A six-hour time zone difference and thousands of miles were nonexistent. Being able to see others during a meeting or showing someone in real time a product or facility brings a new level of communication to business.

I’ve shared with you my top five amazing technologies, and I’m sure your list is different. I’m curious what technologies cause you to stop and shake your head in your industry? Feel free to share below in the comments.

Be intentional,