Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Innovation and Corporate Culture - Part 1

This afternoon, I have been asked to join a group of 15 other innovators in Oregon to meet as part of a monthly Oregon Innovator's Forum. While I am honored to play a part, I am the first to admit that I'm not one of the top innovators in Oregon. That doesn't mean I don't have a lot to talk about in the area of innovation and my experiences around it.

I call this Part 1 because I hope to gain a lot of knowledge from the meeting to share back to this group (which of course will be Part 2). I believe that innovation can play a significant part in making Agile and especially Lean successful.

The topic for this session is called "Innovation, Corporate Culture, & Getting Out of Our Own Way" Here is a description of what will be talked about:

Have you noticed roadblocks to innovation that defy remediation?

Are you working around counterproductive business practices or systems?

Do you find that you can’t even talk about these roadblocks and awkward practices because the topics are taboo?

Then you’ve probably stumbled upon some immutable corporate cultural icons!

Please join other Oregon innovators for an informal discussion on how we can evolve the seemingly inflexible aspects of managing businesses so they better support the actual results the business hopes to achieve. The process of defining these stubbornly unyielding business practices can be difficult because your culture, like the water around a fish, is invisible. As participants in corporate culture, we do something a certain way because we think it is the only way, the right way, or at least the familiar way. These practices and systems then resist change when the business climate demands innovation.

Cultural inertia resists the changes that innovators attempt to invoke.

It's true that cultural inertia can provide certain advantages: No one wants to try to survive in a culture that is constantly changing—it would be too stressful and confusing. But here's the problem: when the “pain” associated with the current status quo becomes great enough, cultures look to their innovators for ideas on how to improve the situation. However, this hope for positive change often comes with an unconscious expectation that the “improvements” will only require minimum alterations to what we value in the cultural status quo: A “you can’t change that!” mentality.

Corporate culture thrives on the myth that issues which affect the entire company can be “thrown over a wall” to be fielded by people who will somehow handle the details by “fixing” things only on their side of the wall, with small impact anywhere else in the company. Unfortunately, that rarely works. One example where it doesn’t work is in the area of incentives for project teams. There is a growing body of evidence which indicates that providing incentives to teams produces more manageable and successful projects than providing incentives either to individuals or managers. But is your corporate culture is ready to hear that??

How do we turn this cultural Titanic around?

What are some corporate cultural icons you’ve bumped up against in the course of your travels and how did they need to change? How have you dealt with them, or how do you wish you could have dealt with them? How do we get out of our own way?

Bring your victories and war stories and let’s see if together we can shine a light on some of those change-resistant areas of corporate culture which might be blocking our paths to innovation.

I would like to hear from my readers on this topic. Please share via comments either your victories or war stories and I'll compare it to our discussion later today.

1 comment:

pdxJaxon said...

Hey Skip,

This sounds like a great opportunity for you and for the community.

I studied Six Sigma, Lean, Theory of Constraints and Critical Chain Project management in my MBA "Operations management" course (tonight is the last night of the course).

I gotta say, of all the processes we discussed, although I am excited about all of them, I am absolutely convinced that CCPM has the most opportunity for major improvements in project management particularly when discussing time to market issues.

I would love to hear some feedback from the industry from those who have tried CCPM and how their experiences went.

If you're not too well versed in CCPM, then I Highly recommend Eli Goldratt's book "Critical Chain".

Goldratt is very well known and the book is an easy read.

look forward to hearing back....