(Co-Authored with Steven A. Cavaleri)
This post is the second discussing the question of enhancing processes and activities we use to develop new ideas.
Second, introduce openness to new ideas as a policy and get the organization to commit to it. This is easy to say, but because “openness” is not always easy to see and enforce, it requires unremitting efforts to communicate its importance and legitimacy and also to model it. One way to do this is to emphasize that “the job is to be creative,” as they do for example, at Toyota. Another way is to provide everyone with the communication channels they need to participate in the process of creating new ideas at the level of the collective.
Communication channels can be social groupings such as teams, friendship groups and communities of practice which provide alternative pathways to formal authority structures. In addition, alternative communication channels can be supported by new technologies. The Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, social software, social computing, and social media technology cluster can be really important here. Implementing Enterprise 2.0 ecology “inside the firewall,” can’t guarantee creativity or the quality of new ideas, greater inclusiveness in PSP processes, and greater internal transparency, but there’s no question that implementing this technology cluster creates and so signals both the policy and partial reality of a policy of openness to new ideas, and also enables democratizing their creation; therefore making the likelihood of variety in new ideas more likely.
Most organizations are not open to new thinking. They restrict freedom to formulate alternative solutions to problems to a relatively small organizational elite composed of either managers themselves or research specialists in various disciplines. This practice restricts the problem-solving capacity of enterprises, and also provides an excuse for restricting access to information, and some aspects of previous knowledge, to the few who most obviously need it for their problem-solving activities.
Openness to new ideas provides, in contrast, for distributed knowledge creation and discovery, and for using the inventiveness and talents of everyone in the enterprise to close knowledge gaps. This kind of openness is much more adaptive for an organization than restricting participation in problem solving, because it creates the variety of new ideas necessary to counter the variety of environmental challenges an organization is likely to face.
Toyota is the poster child when it comes to openness to new ideas. In The Elegant Solution, Matt May claims that Toyota (pp. xi-xii):
“. . . implements a million ideas a year . . . It’s the reason why they’re one of the planet’s ten most profitable companies. It’s why they make well over twice as much money as any other carmaker, and with under 15% of the market. It’s why their systems, processes, and products are the envy of the world. It’s the greatest source of their competitive advantage and staying power. It’s their engine of innovation.
Those ideas are coming from every level in the organization. Because innovation isn’t about technology. And it’s certainly not about manufacturing. It’s about value, and opportunity, and impact. At Toyota, every idea counts. It’s an environment of everyday innovation, the direct result of a fanatical focus on getting a little better daily.”
As Toyota illustrates, openness to new ideas, is not about the intrinsic value of democracy in organizations. Instead, it is about Ashby’s Law, which for any system requires that the variety in the system must be equal to, or larger than, the variety introduced by environmental perturbations, if a system is to survive.
Third, organizations should introduce training for knowledge workers in the use of social technologies for generating new ideas at both the individual and collective levels, and then organizations should use these technologies. Communities of Inquiry and Knowledge Cafés, are two of these. But there are much older, better-tested social technologies for group decision making that are very effective, in providing an environment where new ideas can be stimulated by social exchanges, and transparency, inclusiveness, and trust can be increased. They include Problem Solving Teams, Delphi Technique, Nominal Group Technique (NGT), Group Value Measurement Technique (GVMT), Team Analytic Hierarchy Process (TAHP), and a variety of group facilitation and focus group processes. The older techniques have frequently incorporated psychometric procedures producing ratio scales developed from judgmental data gathered during the group decision process. Such scales can be very useful in developing new models, including causal, forecasting, measurement, and value assessment models.
To Be Continued