Friday, March 25, 2011

i-TFTD #311: Productive vs Reproductive Thinking

How to See What’s Not There
Sunday, February 10, 2008
From the blog of Tim Hurson, author of Think Better (highlights mine)

The other day I participated in an innovation day for the supply chain management division of a large company. The morning was spent on several presentations about how the group had innovated over the past year. One of the major innovations was a regular meeting in which suppliers and customers could talk with one another.

Now, I think this is a great idea, and I'm sure it made thin! gs more efficient for everyone. But as good an idea as it is, a regular communication meeting is not breakthrough innovation.

I see this kind of thing a lot
companies patting themselves on the back for breakthrough innovations that are really incremental improvements. Incremental improvement is powerful and positive, but it's not the same as breakthrough innovation. Incremental change results from Reproductive Thinking. But for game changing innovation, you need Productive Thinking. Here's the difference:

Reproductive Thinking is a way to refine what's known. Think of continuous improvement, Six Sigma, or positive incremental change. It's what you need for ferreting out inefficiencies, improving quality, and ensuring consistent outcomes. Reproductive Thinking is characterized by what the Ja! panese call kaizen, or good change.

Productive Thinking is a way to generate the new. Think of big AHAs, eureka moments, and breakthrough change. It's what you need for seeding innovation, disrupting the marketplace, and changing the rules of the game. Productive Thinking is characterized by what I call tenkaizen, or good revolution.

Both types of thinking are useful
, but if you want to create something truly new, Reproductive Thinking is the wrong tool. You need Productive Thinking.

When you were a kid, you probably had a thaumatrope. A thaumatrope isn’t a childhood disease; it’s a toy, popularized in Victorian England. It consists of a small disk with a picture on either side, mounted on string that lets you spin it. If you get the disk spinning fast enough, the two pictures merge. A common thaumatrope shows a bird on one side and an empty birdcage on the other. When you twirl the disk, you see the bird in the cage. Although there is no! actual picture of a bird in a cage, you see it as clear as can be. You see a picture of something that isn’t there.

Productive Thinking is like spinning a thaumatrope. It's a way of combining old ideas and insights to make something new.

Striving for reproductive efficiency is great. By all means, go for it. But don't think that's the same as game-changing innovation. You can't fool yourself into being innovative. You need to learn how to think productively.

Useful to distinguish between small continuous improvement and radical innovation. Both are necessary but their characteristics vary. Kaizen has to become a philosophy in our daily behavior in all spheres of life. I can decide that whatever I get involved in, I will leave my mark on it, it will be improved. Periodically one has to challenge the basic assumptions and think completely afresh rather than getting into a ! rut. Some of us are good at one and not the other so we have to borrow other people's inputs to manage around our limitation. Doing neither for a long time is bad, boring and a route to complacency and stagnation.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

i-TFTD #310: On the Use of Data

#310-1. If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.
-Ronald Coase, Nobel prize-winning British economist (1910-)

#310-2. Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often vague, than the exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise.
-John W. Tukey, American statistician (1915 – 2000)

#310-3. The temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of our profession.
-Sherlock Holmes, brilliant fictional detective created in 1887 by Arthur Conan Doyle, Scottish author and physician

Statistical methods can be misapplied to create the illusion of conclusive proof, especially due to the wide availabil! ity and ease of use of tools to make charts of various types. In recent years I have keenly followed the explosion of infographics and data visualization.

For any non-trivial issue, it is important to spend time in formulating the right question before jumping to finding answers or gathering data. Many creative thinking techniques rely on redefining the question or problem statement, which can lead to interesting new dimensions to explore to come up with innovative solutions.

An interesting tidbit about John Tukey: He is credited with coining the word "bit" as a contraction of binary digit and a handier alternative to bigit and binit! He also coined the term "software".

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

i-TFTD #309: Short Poems, Lingering Reflections

#309-1. There are those who give little of the much which they have
And they give it for recognition.
There are those who have a little
And give it all.
It is well to give when asked,
But it is better to give unasked through understanding.
You often say I would give only to the deserving.
The trees in your orchard say not so,
Nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
-Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese American poet and writer (1883-1931)

#309-2. A bell is no bell 'til you ring it,
A song is no song 'til you sing it,
And love in your heart
Wasn't put there to stay
Love isn't love
Till you give it away.
-Oscar Hammerstein II, American playwright, lyricist and theatrical producer (1895-1960)

(Thanks to Maria Rodrigues for sharing this.)

#309-3. "Faith" is a fine invention
For gentlemen who see
But microscopes are prudent
In an emergency.
-Emily Dickinson, poet (1830-1886)

Most of us have experienced the deep sense of inner satisfaction when circumstances and intention let us be of some help to another person. But we get caught up in the ways of the world, fueled by aspirations, busily fulfilling our expanding needs and rationalize some of our behaviors as being smart and competitive. Some rediscover the joy of giving in the twilight years after moving out of the rat race.

Giving money or other material help is fine but even intangible giving can make a big difference. Give a word of appreciation—today.

The third quote is juxtaposed to avoid getting carried away in a touchy-feely way!

A logical rea! son for how we gain when we give was discussed in i-TFTD #15: The Law of Giving.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

i-TFTD #308: Learning to Learn

#308-1. I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.
-Khalil Gibran, mystic, poet, and artist (1883-1931)

#308-2. The most useful piece of learning for the uses of life is to unlearn what is untrue.
-Antisthenes, Greek philosopher and pupil of Socrates, later regarded as the founder of Cynic philosophy (c. 445 BCE-365 BCE)

#308-3. There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.
-Willa Cather, American author (1873-1947)

I heartily endorse the nomenclature change in many organizations of the erstwhile Training departments to Learning and Development. The focus shifts to the learner and expands the range of possibilities for the mode, place, time and style of learning. To someone who adopts a learner attitude, every situation offers the possibility of gaining knowledge. Reminds me of the ancient saint Dattatreya, who, when asked who was his teacher, is said to have replied that he had 24 teachers and proceeded to list them including a bird, an animal and elements of nature.

At a practical level it is important to unlearn or forget some past learning in order to facilitate the assimilation of newer facts and knowledge.

The last quote observes that while most things are best learnt in a conducive environment, some types of learning can only occur in the midst of a crisis. Think back to any high-pressure situation you have been a part of and I am sure you will glean some memorable insights. In a slightly different context, the Japanese way of understanding a problem begins with the remark, "Come to the Gemba!" (Gemba means the real place or the shopfloor.) Some aspects are revealed only in the gemba.

Learning has been a recurrent theme here in i-TFTD right from i-TFTD #4: April 2007 to learning from children, tips on continuous learning, learning from objects around the room and profound learning.

i-TFTD #307: What Mature Leaders Do

#307-1. Longing for the ideal while criticizing the real is evidence of immaturity; Settling for the real without striving for the ideal is complacency; Whereas maturity is actually living with the tension.
-Rick Warren

#307-2. To be a leader is to take responsibility for outcomes... good, bad or indifferent. This, more than any other characteristic or trait, is the mark of a leader.
-Thomas D. Willhite

#307-3. If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
-John Quincy Adams

"Don't be idealistic" dismissively advises my pragmatist colleague.

"Think beyond the current reality" exhorts my boss.

My brain churns out inspiring visions while a pile of immediate To Dos stare at me and the same brain finds reasons why something is impractical when an eager subordinate suggests a new idea.

The first quote above brilliantly explains the contradictions—no easy resolution.

The second and third quotes highlight important attributes of leadership: sense of ownership and positively influencing other people. These have very little to do with one's position, title, age or experience.

i-TFTD #306: Leaders Lead People

Here’s a bonus edition of i-TFTD along with a resolve to share more thought-provoking content in this coming year.

#306-1. Too many bosses use "brainstorming meetings" to conduct "blamestorms" where the goal is to point fingers, humiliate the guilty, and throw a few overboard.
-Shyamal Majumdar in his article, Are you a control freak? in Business Standard in Sep-2010

#306-2. If executives aren't making mistakes, they aren't taking enough risks.
-Anne Mulcahy, former CEO and Chair of Xerox (1952-)

#306-3. All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.
-John Kenneth Galbraith, economist (1908-2006)

#306-4. If businesses managed their money as carelessly as they manage their people, most would be bankrupt.
-Ram Charan (1939-) and Bill Conaty in their book, The Talent Masters: Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers

#306-5. Leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders.
-Tom Peters, American management author (1942-)

#306-6. No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.
-Halford E. Luccock, American Methodist minister (1885–1961)

We have discussed before the essentiality of allowing mistakes and encouraging risk-taking in the business environment. The shift from the word management to leadership in the past few decades is probably due to the recognition of the responsibility that leaders have, to focus on developing people, identifying and nurturing the next set of leaders.