Posted by: Terry
Posted on: Sunday, 18th March 2007, 11:34 PM.
Those that read the Business Week article carefully will have discovered (despite the provocative title) the author did not promote the notion that the business choice was SS or Innovation. Indeed, a key point presented was the work of researchers who believe the two can--must--coexist within an organization, but at the same time must be separated. Reference was made to the writing of O'Reilly and Tushman:
"Their conclusion is that smart companies separate the more ambitious efforts at innovation from ongoing efforts at continuous improvement, allowing for different processes, structure, and cultures to emerge within the same company."
This point of view is an extension of work I became exposed to in 2000, by Sherman D. Roberts at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard University. Roberts contrasted the processes of "maximizing" and "innovating."
By maximizing, Roberts meant any process to boost performance by reducing variation that worked to minimize it. We would easily use "continuous improvement" and "six sigma" as process synonyms. In contrast, "innovating" means a process of increasing variations, followed by choosing the best among them for further development.
For me, the eye-opening conclusion of Roberts was that these two processes require fundamentally conflicting behaviors. The implication was that--while most organizations should do both--the activities should be led by separate groups, to avoid the behavior conflicts that occur when any person or team attempts both simultaneously. To me, the work of O'Reilly and Tushman, and the Business Week article, reiterates this point of view.
Since my exposure to it, I have been fond of Roberts' teaching, because it validated my long-standing empirical experience that these two activities never worked well in organizations I managed, until I split the responsibilities among two independent departments. At the time, it was my own gut that drove my decision. One could understand my affinity for the theory that seemed to endorse it.
Ever since, the challenge of how to achieve this separation in small organizations (which typically cannot employ separate staffs in separate locations, one to pursue SS/CI and the other Innovation) has been of great interest.
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