· Naughties
· · 2006
· · · September
· · · · 12 (1 entry)

On Innovation · I re­al­ly owe Ni­cholas Carr a vote of thanks; I be­lieve no oth­er sin­gle in­di­vid­u­al has pro­voked so many on­go­ing en­tries of the form “A is right about X” or “A is wrong about X”. To­day, Nick is wrong about in­no­va­tion. To be fair, this is some­thing that has driv­en man­age­ment prac­ti­tion­ers and the­o­rists crazy forever; the peo­ple run­ning a com­pa­ny tend to know pret­ty well where some in­no­va­tion would be use­ful; adding prod­uct val­ue to give some price lever­age; re­vamp­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tions to tie up less cap­i­tal; it de­pends on the company’s pain point. And that kind of work­s, but on­ly for the lit­tle in­no­va­tion­s. Maybe the best-known ex­am­ple is Kaizen, as ap­plied in the Toy­ota Pro­duc­tion Sys­tem; which ex­plic­it­ly ac­knowl­edges that it’s chas­ing smal­l, in­cre­men­tal, steps for­ward. But for­tunes are made, and in­dus­try ti­tans are built, where man­age­ment isn’t re­al­ly look­ing, al­most al­ways. The big pieces of in­no­va­tion come out of garages and low-rent of­fices in lousy lo­ca­tion­s, and they’re pro­duced by small groups with­out much man­age­ment back­ing. It can be done at big com­pa­nies (the busi­ness per­son­al com­put­er at IBM, Ja­va at Sun) but then it’s al­ways in an off-the-mainstream skunkwork­s. Nobody—I re­peat, nobody—is smart enough to pre­dict where the next big strate­gic in­no­va­tion is go­ing to come from. So if you “narrow your in­no­va­tion focus”, you’re al­most guar­an­teed to miss it. The best ap­proach, I think, is a com­bi­na­tion of con­scious fo­cused in­cre­men­tal innovation—kaizen—combined with a struc­ture that’s loose enough that when some­one wants to hide in a cor­ner and try some­thing crazy, you don’t get in the way too much.
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