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2013

Today the topic that is at the top of my mind is the challenge of integrating across silos.  The reason that this has a raised visibility is that I have been working through the logistics of a move.  The coordination involved in a successful move has not changed over the years, however I would have thought that the degree of difficulty in navigating the requirements to successfully coordinate a move would have been reduced as a result of the advances in technology.  I’m sorry to say that my assumption was completely opposite of reality, in fact If I didn’t know better I would be suspicious that I entered the integration twilight zone when dealing with the utilities.


A while back I discussed the impressive level of integration that the airlines have achieved across business and technology silos.  The airlines have invested in new technology to integrate across both business and technology silos with great success.  The result of this investment is that the customer experience provides the same results whether the contact is by telephone, web or mobile applications.  In addition, you are able to monitor the results of your contact and experience across technologies and platforms with the same results.  The airlines are one very good example of the direction that integration practices and technology capabilities can help a company to achieve.  Everyone, everywhere is striving to provide the same high level of service to the customer across any channel.


Now let's cross over into the integration twilight zone that the major utilities call customer service.  To illustrate I will recap an actual experience I had with one of the utilities.  It started with a call on Sunday which was a non-starter, after spending five minutes in telephone ‘integrated’ response system that included explaining the reason for my call and providing all of my customer information; I was politely informed by the recorded message that I would have to call again during normal business hours to speak to a representative!  So I dutifully called again during normal business hours, followed the cryptic recorded instructions which included entering my personal information so they could access my customer information to ‘help to serve me better’.  After selecting the service I desired, I was dropped into another series of questions, where I was asked to enter my personal information so that the system could access my customer information to ‘help to serve me better’.  After entering all of this information and again selecting the service I desired, I was informed that I would need to speak to a representative (alleluia!).  So I was transferred to the representative queue for ‘personalized’ help, but before I could reach that salvation, I was put into hold until a representative could help me.  Unfortunately, I still had to pass through the hold sequence waiting for a representative to become available.  This is when I discovered a new insidious trap developed by these utilities; They would save your information and call you when a representative became available.  This sounded great to me, but when I was called back, I had to start all over again providing my personal information so the representative could look up my account to ‘help serve me better’.  It was at that point that I was disconnected!


All kidding aside, I did finally complete the gauntlet and it provided me with some insights that were somewhat surprising.  I think that the key difference between what I would rate as great services and very poor services was industry related.  The positive experience came in industries with a great deal of competition, airlines and retail for example.  The poor experience came from an industry that is monopolistic, utilities.  This brings me to the conclusion that monopolistic industries are not necessarily concerned with customer service because their customers have nowhere else to go.  This, I think, is something that we should be aware of in market encouragement for growing the too big to fail companies - they have no reason to provide services or manage risk because there is no other place to go.

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show...

What additional examples can you provide from the last 20 years to show the both the positive and negative experiences with integration across silos?  Have you experienced improvements or deterioration of service over time and was it related to competition or the lack of competition?

tbrouill

Learning Spark

Posted by tbrouill Jun 24, 2013

There is one thing I’d like to discuss in this entry that relates to the relationship between education and learning.  This is the dramatic specialization in education and degree programs over the last ten to twenty years.  I saw a study recently that explained that the number of degrees have exponentially exploded over the years as education has increased in the relative degree of importance.  I think the commonly held belief is that the increase in specialization has come about due to an increase in the amount of education required for these specialized degrees.  I disagree with the common belief and instead believe that the increase in specialization is due to the development of education as a big business and the business of higher education has determined that there can be an increase in ‘sales’ realized by an increase in specialized degrees.  

 

 


Let me provide an example - when I started my career (when dinosaurs roamed the world) there was an early degree in Data Processing.  At the time companies were hungry for people to help them improve their productivity by developing data processing applications especially in the back office and operational areas of the company.  This hunger for people overcame the number of people available and many companies developed an entry level training program to introduce inexperienced people to the practice of data processing and computer programming skills.  Many companies at that time identified a relationship between the skills and practices taught in music and art degrees to be highly related to the skills and practices required to excel in data processing.  These skills to be specific were patterns and progressive scales that are required for music development and other arts.  I believe that these relationships provided a great deal of value and also a spark of creativity that allowed these new practitioners to solve problems and view the business problems from a different perspective.

 

 


Now lets fast-forward to today where we see a proliferation of specialized degrees and I would argue an over-emphasis in two specific areas; advanced degrees and specialization.  This is where I believe the business of education comes into influence; the business of education has influenced conventional wisdom into believe in the importance of specialization and advanced degrees to achieve the objective of selling more education.  This increase in specialization has encouraged companies to eliminate their training programs and depend on the education system to provide s steady stream of people with the skills necessary to meet the technology needs of the market.  The education system has focused on achieving this objective by increasing the level of specialization in order to provide the level of training that the education system believes is necessary to support the market.  This is where I believe a deficiency is created, by increasing the level of specialization you decrease the level of thought necessary to create new concepts.

 

 


This brings about an interesting dilemma,  in order to address what the education system believes is the objective of business the education system has actually created a deficiency in creativity to meet the true needs of the market.  This deficiency is then magnified by the isolation that can be generated through social media and the explosion of the Internet and cloud capabilities to allow the individual to retreat into the electronic community and away from the human community.

 

 


And now for the audience participation portion of the show...

What additional examples can you provide from the last 20 years to show the both the positive and negative results of education as it relates to learning?

tbrouill

Learning And Education

Posted by tbrouill Jun 23, 2013

I thought it would be appropriate at this point to discuss my thoughts on the difference between Learning and Education.  In many cases these phrases are interchangeable but for this discussion and as it relates to this series of discussions there can be a big difference between the meaning of these two words.  In my definition Education is the process of teaching, this can be any new skills, practices or concepts.  On the other side of the equation is Learning, this is the process of ‘accepting’ the education so that it can be used by an individual.  So education is the act of imparting knowledge and learning is the act of accepting and internalizing the skill, practice or concept.


 

 

While, again, I don’t believe that corporations are people, I do believe that corporations can ‘learn’.  By this I mean that the leadership in the corporation encourages and supports learning to ensure the growth and future success of the corporation.  This is especially important in today’s economy that depends more and more on knowledge in obtaining and maintaining market share.  I would also say that while it may seem relatively straightforward to commit to continuous learning, in order to be successful in continuous learning it requires a commitment from the senior leadership to encourage and commit to the the continuous learning in their actions and words.  The critical requirement for senior leadership in this case is to put the building block in place for continuous learning and also to encourage continuous learning so that a culture of continuous learning can be created and maintained going forward.  One of the most important aspects to this program is the creation of a culture that is hungry to learn.  You must have the culture that is committed to continuous learning in order to encourage the individual teams to maintain and encourage the commitment to learning. 

 

 


In addition to the commitment to learning, there also must be a commitment to ‘unlearning’ skills and capabilities that are no longer necessary to drive the market forward.  This commitment to ‘unlearning’ can be a very difficult objective to achieve.  This commitment to ‘unlearn’ is a commitment to change and grow.  One of the most difficult objectives to maintain is the objective to change because of the natural tendencies for people to gravitate towards the concepts they know and understand.  Change is hard simply because of the unknown outcome that is related to change.

 

 


I’ve come to realize, and find one of the most interesting benefits of continuous learning and developing a company culture that is hungry to learn is that is creates a culture that accepts change!  Think about it, a learning culture is one that is hungry to continue learning new things, and a company culture that is hungry to learn will be focused on the opportunities to expand and try new concepts.  This type of culture to me is the quintessential definition of a culture that is open to, and encourages, change.  In order for a company to success long term, the company must be open to change and one way to encourage this openness to change is to encourage learning and trying the new concepts they learn.  In order to encourage this experimentation the senior leadership must provide a culture that makes failure safe, don’t get me wrong you can’t allow everything to fail but the culture must not punish periodic failures.

 

 


And now for the audience participation portion of the show...

What additional examples can you provide from the last 20 years to show the both the positive and negative results of an learning and a learning culture?

tbrouill

Learning Categories

Posted by tbrouill Jun 22, 2013

In my last entry I discussed the importance of education and especially continuing education and to be even a little more specific, learning how to learn.  I discussed the need for successful organizations to develop a creative culture in order to ensure their continued success and growth.  I suggested the need to develop a culture that is hungry to learn.  Now I want to discuss the two types of learning categories that I think learning can be divided into; personal learning and organization, or business, learning.  A reader of my last post brought up a great point - in order for learning to be successful the person must have a desire to learn and this desire would drive the person to learn from every aspect of their life.  I could not agree more with this suggestion and I would add that an organization displays the same types of traits.  In other words, if an organization desires to encourage learning and invests in this desire, then the result will be a learning organization and a culture that is hungry to learn.

 

 


While I do not believe that ‘companies are people’, I do believe that leadership in a company can encourage a culture that embraces learning.  An organization culture that embraces learning and develops a culture that is hungry to learn will focus on learning that is important to an organization.  This will become a critical success factor to the most successful organizations in the future because of the importance of knowledge in the continued viability of the company.  Some of the most successful companies today are knowledge, or information, based companies.  It does not take much to realize that the type of knowledge development that makes these companies successful is ‘discovered’ and developed within those companies.  This is possible because these companies encourage experimentation and continued organizational learning.  The senior leadership in these companies realize that in order to continue their success in the current market they must continue to discover and in order to continue to discover, they must continue to learn.

 

 


I suggest that there are two categories of learning; personal and organizational.  I also suggest that that these categories of learning support each other.  I also suggest, this is obvious also, that you cannot have one without the other.  Personal learning starts in elementary school and continues on to college and advanced degrees and this personal learning journey helps to foster a desire to learn in a person.  The person with the desire to continue to learn will be the person that is the most successful in the future of these knowledge companies.  These people with a desire to learn will also help to create and encourage companies that become learning companies.  These people will, and in many cases have, become the leadership in these successful knowledge companies and are continuing their education and also developing the organizational cultures that are hungry to learn.

 

 


This practice allows the organization to start  with smart people and grow their knowledge in a manner that is focused on expanding the company.  However, what’s in it for the individual?  I think there are two benefits; if feeds their personal desire to learn more and it allows them to progress in their career.  In addition, the company has the opportunity to add a third benefit and that is to support the individual in their own personal development by providing tuition reimbursement.  This provides a win-win-win for all involved and encourages the continued success for everyone involved.

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show...

What additional examples can you provide from the last 20 years to show the both the positive and negative results of an educational program?

tbrouill

Learning To Learn

Posted by tbrouill Jun 18, 2013

In recent discussions I’ve spoke about collaboration, continuous improvement, continuous experimentation expanding your viewpoint horizon all with the goal of developing a culture that is curious and hungry to try new things and re-invent themselves.  I am beginning to think about these challenges and pursuits as a means to understand and accept the level of discontinuous change that has been increasing for many years.  Now I come to my point that was raised by a comment to another entry and my discussion on continuous experimentation.  The point that someone suggested was that there is a great deal of importance in education and especially continuing education and to be even a little more specific, learning how to learn.  This I believe will be a critical success factor for the future of successful organizations and more importantly I think this is a critical success factor to developing a creative culture.  At its most simple level, I believe that you must develop a culture that is hungry to learn!


This is something that is very easy to discuss and provide guidance to developing this type of culture.  The mechanics are simple and the instructions, or the plan to implement is easy to develop.  The hard part is developing the culture that finds education and learning compelling, a culture that nurtures and embraces education.  These are very compelling phrases, in fact you hear the same mantra across your lives every day - education is the key, education is required to succeed in the future, and we must focus on continuing education because our work is continuously changing.  Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that these are empty platitudes, unless you pair them with a culture that is hungry to learn.  Echoing the empty platitudes is easy and lucrative from a seminar perspective.  The hard part is successfully encouraging and implementing a culture that is hungry to learn. 


Why is it so hard to develop a culture that is hungry to learn?  I believe there are two reasons;

  • This is an initiative that must have the focus, support and patience of the leadership.  The most critical aspect is patience, and especially the patience to allow the culture to grow and learn at a pace that does not follow the quarterly ROI cycle.
  • This is an initiative that must have a visionary to guide the organization through the challenges encountered in developing a culture that is hungry to learn.


I’m sure that everyone reading this entry has had an experience in their life where they have encountered a failed attempt and encouraging learning.  For example, in my past, I’ve had objectives defined in my development plan to complete 40 hours of training each year.  This is a noble objective, I would even say its a little low, but without guidance in types of education and training it is like one hand clapping.  Developing a culture that is hungry to learn is a collaborative effort and the needs and desires of both the members of the organization and the organization must be taken into consideration in developing a comprehensive plan.  This is also where you should take into account your extended partners.  You should collaboration with your extended partners, your team members and the strategic direction to develop an educational program the encourages the culture that is hungry to learn.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show...

What additional examples can you provide from the last 20 years to show the both the positive and negative results of an educational program?

tbrouill

Innovation Time Horizon

Posted by tbrouill Jun 16, 2013

In my last entry I discussed what I call a viewpoint horizon.  I explained my belief in the importance of expanded your viewpoint to include your extended partners along with you internal partners to coordinate your continuous improvement.  This concept in a nutshell proposes that when you expand your viewpoint in your programs like continuous improvement you will gain a greater return.  When you expand your viewpoint you will also expand the opportunities to create an innovative culture that is able to take advantage of comprehensive opportunities across your expanded, internal and external, partners.  In this entry I will discuss the importance of extending your time horizon viewpoint when evaluating innovation.  The value of innovation and even the definition of innovation changes and sometimes dramatically, when you expand the time horizon of your evaluation.

 

 

Let me provide an example, way back in the 80’s in the early days of my career there was no portable technology available.  When there was a problem, we were contacted through a pager and we had to drive in to the office to resolve the problem.  In a few years, the next improvement was a portable device that contained a modem and you would insert your phone (an interesting side-point - the term ‘landline’ was not thought of yet) and you could dial into the data center to resolve the problem.  In a couple years, desktop computers were expanding use in the office and a ‘portable’ computer, again with a modem, was available to use for problem resolution.  The ‘portable’ computer at that time was the size of a carry-on suitcase.  Now, we carry more computing power in our mobile smartphone.  So in looking back, while these continuous innovations were occurring, each step along the way was not life changing.  However, when you compare where we started with where we are today you can really see the extraordinary innovation. 

 

 

There is one additional trait that I think is important to the success of the expansion of the time horizon, and that is patience.  In this case, I think it is safe to say that patience is the ‘secret sauce’ to expanding your time horizon.  You can see from my example above that in looking back you can identify the steady and continuous innovation in steps that provide tremendous innovation easily visible when you expand your time horizon.  I will also tie this example to my previous entry that recommends incorporating a continuous improvement program across your extended organization partners.  Patience is critical to the success because it can be difficult to identify the path to innovation when you are in the midst of the effort, each step, or improvement, along the way may not seem like much, but with some patience the progress will be steady and continuous.  It is important to remember Thomas Edison’s viewpoint - he didn’t fail a thousand times, instead he identified a thousand ways that would not produce the light bulb.  Patience will also help you to maintain progress when periodically your improvements do not bring you the benefits or the progress that you initially hoped for.

 

 

I hope that you can see from my discussion today the importance of expanding your time horizon viewpoint.  This is important to provide the perspective that is necessary to encourage you to practice a continuous improvement program across your extended organization.  This is also important to show the dramatic benefits you can achieve by expanding your continuous improvement and experimentation across your extended organization.

 

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show...

What additional examples can you provide from the last 20 years to show the value of expanding your time horizon viewpoint?

I hope you’re not put off by this headline for this discussion, I’ve been thinking about this for a while and ‘Culture Viewpoint Horizon’ is the most appropriate that I have identified.  What do I mean by ‘Culture Viewpoint Horizon’?  This is my term to describe how you ‘see’ your company or your organization within a company.  In my mind the viewpoint horizon describes what you include in your particular paradigm (viewpoint)k and then the external organizations/companies/teams that you consider in your sphere of influence (horizon).  What I mean by that is that everyone has their own sphere of influence, or interest may be a better term, and their thoughts and beliefs are both influenced by and influence this sphere.  From a very specific point I would provide this common phrase as an example - when the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.

 

 


I have come to this realization and confirmation recently based on the discussions that have been generated as a result of my recent discussion topics.  What I’ve observed is that practices and observations expressed in the discussions are guided by history and experience.  So, for example, when someone comes from an engineering or manufacturing practice the view continuous improvement as an operational and tactical tool within the Lean toolbox that would be used to improve processes and efficiencies.  This is a very valid viewpoint and provides great value to the organization and company.  So this is a valid and important Viewpoint Horizon that guides and provides and framework for activities within the organization. 

 

 


Based on this realization I now suggest that you expand your horizon to take into account all of the organizations and groups that make up your extended organization including your internal and external partners across the extended organization.  This will require that you expand your definitions and framework to take into account all of the definitions across your extended organization.  This does not mean though, that each partner in your extended organization must change their individual definitions.  In my opinion though this does mean that each partner in your extended organization should be open to accepting the fact that a practice, or term, can have different definitions based on the organization need or framework.

 

 


As you extend your viewpoint horizon through your extended organization and develop a collaborative extended organization, your viewpoint horizon will naturally expand to include the extended organization culture.  I’ve discussed the extended collaborative network in the past and I come back to that now because I realize that this is an important factor in the extended collaborative network.  In order to be successful you must develop a common framework in order to provide guidance to actions, in order to develop the common framework you must develop a common language, in order to develop a common language you must have complete definitions and then in order to develop complete definitions you must be open to the possibility that terms can have multiple multiple definitions based on the viewpoint of the organization.

 

 


The objective of expanding your viewpoint horizon to develop a common culture across your extended organization is to extend the ‘tools in your tool box’.  This will allow you to more efficiently address your challenges.  I believe this will also encourage innovation and collaboration in your extended organization that will allow you to develop a culture of innovation.

 

 


And now for the audience participation portion of the show...

How many tools do you have in your tool box?  What types of challenges have you encountered that may have caused you to rethink your view point?

I did not realize that my suggestion would start such an interesting string of comments but I’m glad that it did because it sparked some interesting discussions and really gave me the incentive to think about the different reasons and benefits for linking Lean with Strategy.  This concept came to me as a natural progression in the the utilization of the tools and processes that have been formalized and used to great benefits in manufacturing and operations.  I did not think of it as a radical shift as suggested by one of my readers.  After some contemplation, though and some additional comments in by readers I’ve come to the realization that this may be a radical shift in the utilization of lean practices. 

 

 

At most manufacturing and operations companies continuous improvement programs such as Lean and Six Sigma are very narrowly defined and focused on reduction of waste and variability in the process or operation. In addition to this narrow focus, they are also very narrowly implemented at the operational level.  This narrow focus and implementation can cause the improvement process to stall over time. This tendency to stall can be caused by many factors including a lack of employee engagement along with a disconnect or a loss of management interest between programs such as Lean and strategy. This is where linking Lean practices with Strategy development and execution can provide the means to overcome this loss of interest.

 

 


There is a leap of faith, or more appropriately described as a leap of focus maybe, will allow you to expand your capabilities and truly embrace the creative culture to derive and sustain an innovative company.  Language is a funny thing and a common language is sometimes the greatest hurdle to overcome in developing a creative culture and innovative company.  I’ve come to realize that there can be limitations erected as a result of language and preconceptions that can limit your opportunities.  These limitations caused as a result of language and preconceptions can also cause a loss of interest and focus because fo the tendency for commonplace to cause complacency and boredom.  I can say with a great deal of confidence that boredom is the great killer of creativity and innovation.  I can also say though that there is no room for boredom in a creative and innovative company.

 

 


The creative culture can be defined in many ways, the one that I like the best is a creative culture encourages and promotes curiosity and encourages exploration.  A creative culture in short I believe is the embodiment of ‘Why not?’  A creative culture encourages curiosity and provides a safe haven for experimentation.  A creative culture allows and encourages experimentation in viewpoints!  With experimentation in viewpoints you break the chains that language and preconceptions place on your abilities.  When you break the changes on your abilities and viewpoints you can tear apart and rebuild legacy practices in new a radical ways to encourage a creative culture that embodies continuous experimentation.

 

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show...

Do you have any personal examples of practices that have limited your engagement?  Then more importantly do you have any personal examples of how you have overcome these limiting practices or methods?

After a recent discussion regarding innovation a response from a reader sparked a train of thought that I want to share today.  The response was about types, or levels of innovation and I thought it was especially appropriate to my recent series on innovation so in this installment I will share my thoughts regarding these three levels of innovation.  The point of the discussion and the comment is that there is a distinction to be made between tactical innovation, strategic level innovation and an innovative culture,. The point of this is that you must take innovation seriously in order to deliver  a return.  You cannot focus on innovation for innovation’s sake, there must be a valid business reason for the innovation.  The business results achieved through a high level innovation should translate into outputs that strengthen the business is a process while efficiently utilizing your limited resources. In addition, these three levels allow the innovation to be segmented into groups to provide the appropriate focus and coordination to deliver a continuous stream of business value.

If you are innovating existing products at a tactical innovation level to sustain the customer interest and attraction, then much of the innovative work comes at a tactical level courtesy of listening to customers, along with the position of products and product lines within the market.  This may not be exactly the image of imaginative people going about their work that comes to mind.  This is however a great example of tactical innovation, the type of innovation that is critical to extending the life of products in the marketplace.  In addition, this type tactical innovation provides the ‘runway’ for the strategic innovation to solidify and create new products and markets.

The strategic levels of innovation initiates and continues the search for the next product or service that will create the new products and markets.  This is a focus on creating the  innovative technologies that will be creating and driving disruptive innovation in future markets. This type of innovation requires even more effort at the leadership and management level; and even greater disciplined efforts to pull them off.  This is one of the most difficult levels of innovation to be successful with but it is also one of the most rewarding!

Even more critical to the success of a company and innovation is the innovative culture.  The innovative culture provides a structure and leadership that tolerates and even encourages failures because most of these types of efforts will fail, some will find success where it was not expected and a few will succeed as intended. There is a place for free flowing creativity and innovative spirit to coexist in companies and I would say that a truly innovative culture is made up of equal parts of tactical innovation, strategic innovation and an innovative culture.

I want to thank, again, the reader that provided the comments that triggered this discussion. I think that the concept of three levels of innovation a tripod of innovation that provides a solid foundation and framework to true innovative success.  It provides the basis for a solid and continuous base that will provide the support and a runway to support strategic innovation that will create new products and markets.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show...

Where do you see your company in relation to the three levels of innovation that I am describing above?

tbrouill

Big Data In The News

Posted by tbrouill Jun 9, 2013

One of the big pieces of news over the last week or so is related to Big Data and is really a very timely story considering its relationship to the Business Intelligence industry and the industry events, strategies and general discussions recently regarding the benefits and opportunities for Big Data applications in business.  For the purposes of this discussion i will not get into the type of information collected or the use of this information.  Let me just stick with a point that i find very interesting as it relates to discussions in the business role generally and the supply chain world more specifically.  If you simply focus on the generalized work and data collected to perform this work it becomes a type of proof of the capabilities and the value that Big Data can provide.  As a side note, I also find it rather interesting that so many people feel that government cannot perform at the same level as private industry, and yet here is one of the most sophisticated and probably largest uses of Big Data that was efficiently and effectively developed by a government branch in a time a manner that has far surpassed the capabilities of a great deal in private industry!

So, this story shows just how important Big Data can be from an analysis perspective and shows the level of importance that Big Data can provide in this type of analysis.  There is another point that I think is important to recognize and plan for in developing a Big Data strategy that brings value to your organization.  That second point is that you must analyze and understand the type and volume of the data that is required to perform the different levels of analysis that are required to bring value to the organization.  In this particular case there is a great deal of data (hence the term Big Data) required to identify where to look for the more detailed analysis.  In this example you have a very large volume of data that is being used to identify groups of related information to analyze and identify further interactions for further analysis.

The point, or the process, here is to perform an initial analysis to identify the high level data that will be utilized to identify where and what to look for in a more detailed analysis.  The interesting thing about this analysis is that while you are refining your analysis and refining your focus to a smaller set of detailed information, the level of detailed required to successfully perform the analysis dramatically increases.  Because of the level of detail and the amount of data required to perform a value added analysis, the first step of your strategy must be to perform a careful and thorough analysis of the types of data required along with the relationships and level of detailed required to perform analysis.  There is one additional point to be aware of - you must be aware and also prepared to change and add information to your intelligence collection as you learn and identify new requirements.  This too must be viewed as a continuous improvement program to refine and improve as you learn.

Now for the audience participation portion of this program…….

Have you started to develop a strategy to collect information for analysis?

How did you start your Big Data journey?

This seems to be my time to be influenced again by readers.  In this case I am paraphrasing a reader by asking can Continuous Improvement be considered a strategy, or is its focus simply an operational improvements methodology?  It seems to me that this is a very interesting question and is a worthwhile discussion from a purely intellectual perspective, however I must say that I wonder whether it really makes a difference if you call it a strategy or not, as long as your capabilities focus on driving improvements.  Its like the age old question - Why ask Why?  After all, no matter what you call it as long as you drive benefits to the bottom line does it really matter what you call it?

I know what many of you are thinking now - it is wrong to focus the short term benefits and short sighted not to think about your future and I agree.  However, I also believe very strongly that you must develop a means to pay for your strategy and that means to pay for your strategy, I also believe, can and should be through a rigorous Continuous Improvement program.  The simple reality is that you must provide a means to fund your intellectual endeavors, or in this case your strategy and the benefits provided by a Continuous Improvement program provide that means to fund the intellectual endeavors.  In addition to a means to fund your intellectual endeavors, a Continuous Improvement program should also be viewed and driven to provide a means to experiment.

The Continuous Improvement program was developed as an tool of the six sigma practice and as such I can see that in its most pure concept, I believe that it has progressed to the point where it can play a vital role in your strategy development and implementation.  Don’t be confined by imaginary restrictions of the common definitions of terms!  The key is to experiment and improve your practices through experimentation.  I believe that a progressive Continuous Improvement program can provide tools to guide and measure the progress of these experiments.  These experiments should also focus on the steps that will drive your strategy forward and not just on improving your business processes. 

Remember the importance I’ve related to the simple question ‘Why not?’  This simple concept can help to drive your experimentation in your Continuous Improvement program and develop  your strategy in a manner that is quick and cost efficient.  I am starting to think that we should change the name ‘Continuous Improvement’ program to a ‘Continuous Experimentation’ program!  If I’ve learned anything over time, I’ve learned that you should never let yourself be confined by definitions, and especially current definitions.  Throughout history progression has been defined by experimentation and the only thing that can be counted on is that the progression of experimentation and changes will only increase as time goes on, that is simply the very nature of progress and at this point I think that progress has achieved critical mass and can continue based on this critical mass.

Now for the audience participation portion of this program…….

What is your experience with the combining and maintaining a multiple programs in a complex organization?   How do you encourage and control experimentation in your organization?

In recent discussions I’ve started to think about creative destruction as a form of evolution as it relates to the business world.  What I mean by this is that I think of businesses within a market as an entity that is born, matures into a successful business and then in many cases ages and eventually dies.  I am not putting any kind of timeline to this life cycle because like many living things in the world, there are different life spans for different companies and there are life spans for companies.  Also, just like living beings the environment, or in the case of businesses the market, can have a huge impact on the life span.  The evolution of businesses into a new market or new way of doing business through creative destruction is a process that I am now starting to believe can be compared to the natural selection that is a part of evolution.

 

 

There come times when a mutation (creative destruction) occurs that allows an organism or body to better survive or take advantage of external influences.  At this point the 'old' organism or body does not immediately expire, but the new mutated organism or body allows it to flourish and replace the old.  Based on this description I would compare the creative destruction process to the evolutionary mutation process.  While I do not believe that corporations are people, I do believe that corporations have a lifespan that can be dramatically influenced by the ability to grow and change to meet changing business environments and market conditions.  As I’ve said in the past, the lifespan of a company progresses from start-up, or infancy, through maturity and if the company does not regularly renew itself it goes into a downward cycle until it expires.  The trick for a healthy and long lasting company is a regular renewal that allows the company to meet or better yet, create new markets.

 

 

I think there are two methods for renewal; the first is a continuous renewal, or growth, process and the second is a more sudden, or destructive, process that sets in motion the destruction of the current market along with the renewal of the company to support the new market.  I left one method of growth out of my discussion on purpose; growth through acquisition.  The reason I left this out is because I do not consider this method innovative and I even think that this method can cause a greater problem for a company to consume the competitors and still remain vibrant.  I’ve seen too many companies driven into a downward cycle due to the acquisition and I think it is caused by a combination of different factors that are extremely difficult to overcome.  Not to mention the fact that growth through acquisition could actually cause a company atrophy because it eliminates the need to change to meet the challenges from competition.

 

 

I think that the first two methods for renewal I mention both can provide a means to innovate and grow and by doing this meet the challenges from the competition.  In addition, I think that these two methods can also work in combination to provide the means, the tools and the skills to both meet the challenges of a changing marketplace and the competitors in this marketplace along with the tools and the skills to innovate and transform the market in new ways.

 

 

Now for the audience participation portion of the show -

What is your experience with methods for renewal?  How do you help your company renew and grow?  Have I missed any method for renewal?