Deconstructing Innovation

March 25, 2007

I was about to commence a two hour workshop on innovation last Thursday for new managers.  The previous session was late finishing, giving me a little extra time to think about how I would open the session.  And what I came up with is what makes up the term innovation – or my attempt at deconstructing innovation.

Innovation = INN + O + VAT + ION

The best innovations come from social interaction.  And the best social interaction is being away from work, down the pub having a drink (hence the inn).  The drink could be a nice red wine or beer which use a vat for the fermentation process.  The O comes from needing to go around in circles for a while to work on the idea.  And of course, ion at the end in chemistry-terms is a charged particle and these are extremely important in the innovation process in getting the sparks going for idea formation.  Both negative ions and positive ions are worthwhile, the cynics to refine the idea through critique and the positive people to embellish and exaggerate to stretch the ideas further.

So if you want to innovate, get out of the work environment, buy some fermented drinks, talk around in circles and make sure that you have a diverse bunch of positive and negatively charged people.  It’s sure to happen then!

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Saving Your A.R.S.E.

March 17, 2007

Cory Banks, a regular actKM list participant, wrote recently of his desire to find a name to describe why findings from coaching materials for After Action Reviews should be recorded and made available for people who were unable to participate directly. These people could be current or future fellow workers. Intelligently, he is using anecdotes to develop the system.

I came up with the term to call the system:

After Review Story Encyclopedia. 

One of my favorite public sector managers once passed me a four page document which had a post-it note and the letters CYA on it for Covering Your (Posterior).  I thought that implementing and documenting after action reviews should be similarly framed around the issue of saving one’s aforementioned posterior.  Have you saved your A.R.S.E. today makes for a good byline to keep people  enthused and build up the knowledgebase. You could also be saving someone else’s tomorrow by documenting lessons today! 

Some people liked the notion of the After Review Story Encyclopedia and so I thought that I would mention it here as well.  Of course the phrase could not be used in real life, could it?  What if it is full of crap?  Can’t get anything out of it (constipated).  You might need to add some more documents (fibre).  But anally retentive accountants and progammers would surely love it!


Future Summit 2006 Reflections

March 15, 2007

Just got in the mail my invitation to register for the Future Summit 2007 conference.  I thought it would be timely then to post my reflections on the previous conference that I attended in Brisbane last year.  This is an excellent event with some great guest speakers but unfortunately, insufficient analysis and synthesis of the material at the time and no follow-up engagement of participants afterwards.  A lost opportunity for a serious discussion of the future of Australia amongst learned and interested people.   I documented these reflections earlier for the VPSCIN July newsletter.

The Future Summit, Australia’s premier platform for the discussion of strategic trends and directions, is an initiative of the Australian Davos Connection.  The 2006 conference held in Brisbane in May was their third summit following from the success of the Sydney and Melbourne summits conducted in the previous two years. Along with many other fellow Victorian Public Service staff escaping the impending cold of a southern winter, for two days I was immersed in the anticipation, excitement and sometimes impending doom of the unfolding future. 

The theme of the 2006 conference was “Re-inventing Australia in the Age of Asia” and explored issues including Australia’s national identity, public health and international security, adapting to emerging technologies, sustaining prosperity in a warming world, talent for a knowledge economy and the globalisation of Asia. As the summit was run using concurrent speeches and workshops, it was impossible to get around to everything that participants wanted to see.  Personally, I concentrated on just three of the themes.  One highlight included a great presentation of different aspects of Australian national identity from looking back to the past (traditional, assimilationist), through the Lucky Country (mateship, value past successes), to theme parks (tourism, Steve Irwin, Brand Oz), to innovative Australia (green, culturally aware and adaptive) to glocalised (mixture of global and local, GPI and non-religious spirituality) identity to one of a future oriented no identity (the global village that is technology connected and where my identity is me).  This demonstrated that identity is not fixed and always multiple and that there are winners and losers whenever we talk about identity as its nature is exclusionary.

A short article like this cannot do justice to the myriad of issues explored by the expert speakers and futures facilitators in the workshops.  Perhaps the lead facilitator, Richard Hames, in his closing plenary summed it up best when he stated that the future is uncertain and that anyone who speaks with certainty of the future belies the truth.  We are currently in a transition between the ages of industrial economics to an era that is more humane, inclusive and integral.  While our identity is important, what is more important is to shift the focus from identity to intentionality, not who we are but on how we create value, difference and worth in the world. 

Looking at the structure of the
Summit, it fell into the trap of having too many experts discussing their own problems and insufficient attention paid to a whole-of-system perspective that examines the convergence between different areas and identifies strategic leverage points to take
Australia and the world forward with confidence and humility.  As a futurist myself, while it was great to be in the room with hundreds of others interested in the future which is often at odds with the approach of the majority of Australians who only rarely contemplate beyond the shorter term, it was somewhat disappointing that a greater engagement and structured dialogue could not be obtained.  The summit report is well worthwhile reading though.


The BRICs are coming

March 12, 2007

In many futures exercises these days that explore wider geo-political influences, one finds many references to the emerging powers, Brazil, Russia, India and China, and how they may push the world superpower balance away from the current US economic and military dominance.  These countries are often simplified to the BRIC countries.  But international influences are complex and these countries are very different in their profiles and future growth prospects.

China – the behemoth and will be a major player no matter what.  Low labour costs are fuelling the manufacturing surge – with 1% of China’s GDP being exported to the US as Walmart goods.  But there will be environmental shocks in China due to its rapid industrialisation, there will remain difficulties due to English language translation, and internal turmoil is possible with growing inequity.

India – the other behemoth.  Still has major population pressures and internal bureaucracy remains a major problem.  Potential for greater IT,  engineering and accounting outsourcing from their almost limitless supply of talented and eager low cost white collar employees. 

Russia – Unlike the first two, its growth is almost entirely dependent on the resources boom.  While this boom has a while yet to run, there seems to be little diversification of their national economy to boost skills and improve private business.  However, they will be a major power base for some time yet, particularly with Europe’s reliance on energy supplies from Russian pipelines.

Brazil – Another resource rich economy but a bit of a sleeper.  Has its own issues with social inequity but progressing with a more diverse economic base as well as large amounts of resources (soy, iron ore and its increasing ethanol production).   Particularly interesting is its push towards open-source software and away from traditional products, with potential productivity and collaborative advantages. 


James Womack – Lean Thinking

March 10, 2007

Now finally I get to go to presentation that suits me perfectly.  As someone who has always been on the thin side of skinny (until more recently when the middle-aged post 40 love handles make an impression), the concept of the Lean Organisation and Lean Thikning really makes sense to me.  But the talk that James Womack gave to VPSCIN on 9 March was less on being lean physically but more on being lean organisationally.

I really liked his presentation.  It was simple common sense.  His self-effacing manner was evident – “I am not smart enough to be an inventor, what my gift is to make things simple”.  And simple is what he made it.  He asks simple but profound questions:
Why don’t you try it and see what happens?
What is your improvement process?
Who is responsible for a particular business process?  He has three key principles for Lean Thinking:

  1. Purpose. Which problems are trying to be solved – and in today’s world, many customers want a complete problem to be solved, not just bits.
  2. Process.  Remove wasted steps, make the remaining steps flow quickly and at the pull (or expressed demand) of the customer.  Try to even out the demand peaks.
  3. People.  Who need to see the whole of the value stream and be engaged in pursuing the creation of the perfect process.

Another key point he made was the need to substitute responsibility for authority.  He gave the example of Toyota (I’ve owned Toyotas as the family car for the past 13 years) that the people who are responsible for the process to achieve the purpose have no authority! 

Another point was the need to document failures – to create a book of knowledge that records the results of every experiment – whether it succeeded or failed.  This scientific approach of hypothesis testing was the best way to advance organisational knowledge on the subject.

I also liked his approach of making his work publicly available on the Australian Lean website (waiting for his presentation to be available as at 10 March 2007 – it’s not on the US Lean website either).  Finally, he put forward the challenge of implementing this thinking into the public sector and reporting the results back to next year’s Lean conference.