Recently I read the views of a scientist on how processes could hurt the serendipitous scientific spirit.
“Structured activities, rules, flow charts and metrics for decision making are the roots of a successful business tree. However curiosity, creativity, freedom and luck are the foundations of science… trying to predefine the outcome of science and restrict it to process won’t work. While I have no doubt a horse can push a cart, is not more effective when pulled?… processes stop serendipity”
The last line does deliver an “ouch” punch. And the first line sets you thinking – will even the roots of a successful business tree weaken and die invisibly if not given the flexibility to seek out space for a stronger foundation? However much we believe in or champion structure and processes, we can certainly recall times when we have been frustrated as the rigidity of processes stood unmoving, hampering the flow of our creative juices, or in dealing with an emergency. Like asking an ambulance to stop at a red light.
In a set-your-mind-free-to-think book “Jugaad”, the authors have shown a compelling and practical way to bring innovation to life. Once the unthinkable is envisaged, they say, innovators do not plan, they improvise. They experiment simultaneously with multiple ways to reach their goal. They act with speed and agility. They shed risk aversion thinking. Organizations that embrace innovation rewrite rules and create time and space for employees to experiment – and thereby truly engaging them to confidently step out of their comfort zone to gain new perspectives.
Innovation is today no longer a branding “mantra” or an adrenalin-pumping vision statement. Today it is a ‘do-or-die’ way of thinking, manner of acting. If innovation calls for flexible thinking, it must be accompanied by nimble action, especially in today’s dynamic challenge of even the last minute being history. Silos will need to be broken and re-pieced. The irony of re-introducing the start-up thinking in organizations that pride themselves in having grown past the small scale will have to be reckoned with.
No, this is not an argument for dumping processes. Far from it. It is a watch-out call to prevent processes from becomes the culture at the cost of innovation and humanity. For example, while 3M uses Six Sigma to enhancing manufacturing processes, it has steered it away from interfering with free thinking R&D.
What are the signs that we need to watch out for? Whenever we veer to trust or give much more credence to systems than people to solve problems, these are red flags. Too many approvals and sign-offs, too many meetings, jargon-packed vision statements are the most common. A simple checkpoint for all managers – if the outcome of any decision box directs my thinking to the judgmental, I am stepping on the landmine of deterrent processes for sure.
However, here is a word of caution to the torch bearers of futile denigration of processes. Please keep things in perspective – innovation is not always inversely proportion to structure. As much as the ideation stage requires divergent thinking, the execution stage needs convergent thinking.
We live in an increasingly complex business world that throws a volley of uncontrollable situations that sometimes confound drawing up of even medium term plans. With no opinions on the right and wrong, Albert Einstein’s contention that ‘one cannot alter a condition with the same mindset that created it in the first place’ is a simple truth that we may do well to keep telling ourselves.