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.