“Our most important innovation is the way we work”
Since innovation is the primary driver of human progress, activities that speed up or improve innovative success have special importance. There are many inputs that can improve innovative performance, including education, government policy, and investments. But ultimately they impact how we work — how we create value for our customers — how we innovate.
Today’s innovative performance is generally poor. It is reminiscent of the terrible manufacturing quality and high cost of products after WW II. But that changed with the pioneering innovations of Deming, Juran, and Ohno and the advent of total quality management (TQM). At first the power of continuous improvement based on fundamental learning and improvement concepts was unappreciated, but over time performance was revolutionized. With TQM, cost and quality have both been transformed, often by hundreds of times compared to the 1950s. Today almost every manufacturing and service enterprise uses some version of TQM.
Great progress is made once an important, complicated task becomes a serious area of study, application, and improvement. For example, most of the best athletes of 50 years ago would have a hard time even making a professional team today. Sports medicine has become a science based on study, experimentation, and improvement, as described in The New Yorker article, Searching for the Perfect Athlete.
Medicine and education are seeing pockets of excellence, where results are 2 to 25 times better than previously achieved. Of special note is the work of Atul Gawande in medicine. His book, The Checklist Manifesto, is a classic application of best practices that make profound improvements in outcomes. See a video of Gawande speaking at YouTube.
Performance has been transformed in such disparate fields as manufacturing, services, sports, and it is happening in medicine. It is beginning to happen in innovation and education, both of which produce results today similar to the poor manufacturing quality of the 1950s.
Most innovative initiatives fail at the very start. That is where the lack of a disciplined process is most damaging and results in the most waste. The coming revolution in how we innovate includes many ideas from TQM but many others that are different. For example, statistical techniques are of little use when first creating a new innovation. They come later when getting closer to designing and producing the eventual product or service. As we will discuss, the Discipline and Practice of Innovation (DPI) applies more to the beginning stages of an innovation and TQM applies more to the later stages.