Posts Tagged ‘Dr. Seuss’

steps1Necessity is the mother of invention. I’ve talked about that quite a bit. I like referring to the Dr. Seuss legend of the fifty word challenge.  I’ve gone off on the idea that a blank page is not your friend.

I usually don’t offer any practical advice here but I thought what the heck.  I have this exercise I want to go through.  Here we go.

What if you could just change one thing in the next three months to your organization or team? You can’t change anything else for the next three months. Nothing.

If you said to yourself, “THIS has got to change,” what would that be? Think about it.

Wait. There’s more.

What if it had to be something that over half the people on the team or in the organization do? So it has to be somewhat common. No taking care of big exceptions or one offs. Ain’t nobody got time for that. What might that be? Ponder on that.

Hold on. What if that one thing had to be an everyday occurrence? It could happen once or it could happen twenty times a day. No changing some KPI or end of month report. Think about it.

Nope, not yet. What if that thing had to take less than five minutes?  So we are talking a relatively small task. It might have great significance but it doesn’t have to. Obviously it’s something that needs to be done. What would it be? Hmmm.

OK, one last thing. What if you could only change one step in the process or the situation? No re-engineering the whole thing, no sweeping changes, no week long brainstorming event. One step in the process. What would it be? Done pondering? What might that change be?

Is it different than what you may have first pondered? Maybe you ended up somewhere you didn’t expect.  Perhaps you painted yourself into a corner.  There is no right answer.

The idea is that you were forced to make choices. You had to think about the limitations. Which is good because despite all our theories and methods, there are always limitations. Learn to make them work for you. Learn to find the creativity born out of necessity.

It’s a skill. Even if it’s just an exercise to stretch your mind, the above example illustrates that innovation is not always of the pie in the sky variety. Sometimes it’s hiding in plain sight. Sometimes you get there step by step by step.

Now try it again. Would you start in the same place? Will you end up in the same place?

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box2Where do we find inspiration for innovation? Where do new ideas come from when you’ve become so expert in your discipline that everything around you is familiar? You’ve seen it all. Your massive weight of experience is actually holding you back.

Granted there are lucky few who can look through the experience around them to see new horizons. But where do the rest of us look? Indeed, where do we look?

One option is to leave your discipline. Go on a walk about, you might say. If I’m trying to inspire myself within change and organizational management, I need to leave them. It’s like thinking outside the box but instead you are intentionally going to another box.

See, the problem I have with the thinking outside the box metaphor is that you are basically asking if you could do anything different what would it be. That’s just a paralyzing question. You may as well stick your hand into a box of ideas and pick one out at random.

So no, we instead need to go to another discipline’s box. First, this is good because different disciplines inherently think in different ways that you do even if not particularly innovative within their own box, though innovative thinking is a bonus.  Second, this places limitations on what you’re going to be looking at. Allows the dialog to be specific.  And because it is limited you are forced to think creatively about how their thought processes and innovations intersect with your world.

So here’s an example of looking in someone else’s box.

The Biology Box

I chose to look inside the discipline of Biology. I chose biology because I don’t know anything about biology. My knowledge of biology stopped when I was in middle school and we had to dissect a frog and I passed out.  So this should be new ground for me.

So I did a search for innovation in biology. I came across many articles. Most of which I didn’t have the biology knowledge to understand. But finally came across a shorter article that was approachable.

Bacterial Colonies Evolve Amazing Diversity

cell2This article caught my eye because of the words evolve and diversity. Two words very much alive in the change and organizational management lexicon.  You can read the article here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140630124413.htm

The essence of the article is that with the help of new tools biologists are able to look at bacterial colonies in more detail and specifically at the cell level to identify different environmental impacts and such.

These things called out to me as interesting:

  • The layers of bacteria on the bottom nearest solid source have access to more nutrients and less oxygen
  • The layers on top have access to more oxygen and less nutrients
  • The layers in between have a diverse combination of access to nutrients and oxygen
  • As the colony ages cells adapt to rising levels in toxins and decreasing nutrients, adapting and evolving to the changing environment.

So how can this help me think about organizational change?

Let’s say the cells on the bottom near the source are the line workers and the nutrients are the knowledge gained at the operational level. Let’s say the cells on top are management and the oxygen is the ability to see beyond the daily grind.

The first and not particularly new thought was that in order to have better access do we strive for a thin organization where oxygen and nutrients are, if not equal, more available to the all? Would a thinner organization minimize unwanted mutations (like attitudes, processes, sub-cultures)? Would an organization be healthier while thinner because it would be easier to identify and remove toxins? Something to think about.

My next thought was yes, it would be great to thin an organization’s hierarchy out, but in larger companies a wholesale reorganization of that type would be a major shakeup and could take years. What other options do we have?

Well, since we think having access to both nutrition and oxygen are important for a healthy cell and overall organization, do we force oxygen down into the bottom layers?  Do we force nutrition up to the top? Sounds logical. So we need to create channels or mechanisms for this to happen.

We could try a couple things. We could send managers to the floor to observe and interact and do as much hands on work as is feasible. Not for a few hours not for a day. But like a week or more. You need time to see it.

Why? Because higher up we forget or never knew what it was like to work at the source, on the line. Things evolve so any being removed a few years can leave us blind to the current environment and culture. We get perspective. We get nutrients coming right form the source. Oh, this is what it’s really like to work in my company. Might be eye opening. We get to see how life has evolved and adapted, for good and for bad. So now the oxygen rich cells have access to the nutrients below.

And what about the cells near the source, near the nutrients.  Send line supervisors to planning and strategy and decision making meetings. Ask questions back and forth.  Learn to see that the strategic and the tactical have to work together.

And what if we put in elevators so that oxygen and nutrients could flow more strongly from top to bottom and bottom to top. Communication that is making sure the right information is flowing back and forth. We all know we need to communicate but what is the right information? Well, that’s what you learn when the top is embedded in the bottom and the bottom is embedded in the top.

The Point

I could keep going but you get the point. Looking inside biology’s box allowed me to think about change from a different angle. If I keep digging deeper and start bouncing these ideas off my colleagues maybe we find some insights. Maybe we don’t, but we keep looking, we keep infusing different attitudes and ideas into our discipline. Maybe there is inspiration in the physics box or the logistics box or the Dr. Seuss box.

Oh, the places you’ll go. You should go take a look.

 

 

bars

Are the bars limitations?

Change is everywhere, believe me…

I was listening to a health and nutrition podcast the other day in the car. The host was talking to a caller who had some health issues. He was giving advice on the right nutrition and other steps that could be taken to address the issues.  Then he said something I wasn’t expecting. He asked “Do you know what a kaizen is?”

I raised my hand and said “Ooh, ooh, I do.” Essentially the host said while what I’m telling you may seem overwhelming the key is to make small changes. Yes!

Overwhelming. That’s what it feels like so often when faced with a need to change.

My favorite example of this is at companies who are so dependent on software. The truth one has to come to grips with immediately is that most of these companies would not be able to survive without the software. The dependence on software and technology gadgets will become even greater. This is awesome.

But the business world is fluid, ever changing. Unfortunately, as softwares and companies grow larger and larger their agility becomes more and more limited. Their ability to flex cannot keep pace with the demand to change. The software becomes our prison bars, caging our need to change.

Curse you, software teams. Why can’t you keep up? If we only had this change or that change we would be awesome.

Wait, wait. That’s not going to help, is it? That’s like cursing the sun for coming up every morning. Futile and filled with negativity.

No, best to apply the Serenity Prayer:

Give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed
The courage to change what can be changed,
and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

And what do I know that I can change without coding? Behaviors and process. I can work to change attitudes and approaches to process and culture.

It reminds me of a legend about Dr. Seuss. The legend goes that he wrote “Green Eggs and Ham” on a bet that he couldn’t write a children’s story with only 50 words, obviously an extremely limited and arbitrary set of conditions. But look at the masterful and creative result. A result very much influenced by the limits placed upon the process.  Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

So think of software not as a limitation but an environmental situation that calls for creative solutions.  My mantra is always to use software as a last resort.

I do not ask for software changes.
Not in a day
Not in a week
I do not ask for them
With a plan
I do not ask for them
From the man
I do not ask for them
With a promise
I do not ask for them
With a kiss
I do not ask for software changes