When faced with the choice of running the business of today or building the business of tomorrow, most leaders choose the former in order to ensure near-term profitability. But the bias towards bureaucracy and maintaining the status quo threatens innovation and organizational survival to its very core.
Despite our minds being made for creativity and innovation, our workplaces typically are not. We center our organizations through Lean Six Sigma disciplines, in which we emphasize process and efficiency.
While this sort of discipline, which I call mindlessness, is effective for scaling, it yields little in terms of innovative ideas. This is precisely how organizations become stagnant and, eventually, irrelevant; they fail to foster innovation, thus falling behind in a rapidly changing world.
People are innately curious. Yet while employees want to be able to explore radical or breakthrough ideas, their organizations prevent them from doing so. Most organizations consign their people to one type of thinking and process, which eliminates any need for innovating and creating and instead focuses on mass production.
Granted, organizations must find ways to improve productivity and increase efficiency. These processes then become standard operating procedures in order to produce the same outcome across employees. The trouble comes when this is carried to the extreme, and process and procedures are valued over creativity and innovation.
Breaking Down Barriers in an Transformational World
We live in a world with an accelerating rate of innovation across all industries. The underlying turbulence caused by rapid change means companies who fail to innovate and keep pace fail miserably. Product lifecycles are short, trends are even shorter, and fast followers are left in the dust.
To put this into perspective, when the S&P 500 was first created in 1957, the expected life span of a company was sixty-one years. By 2012, it had fallen by nearly two-thirds to only eighteen years. Today? Most companies in the S&P 500 will not live long enough to employ people during half of their working careers.
The type of leadership required in today’s organizations varies greatly from that required in the past. Success cannot be achieved by implementing Lean Six Sigma processes alone, because simply maintaining the same operating procedures is not sustainable.
New technologies are introduced regularly that disrupt the very way we do business. If a company is focused on merely maintaining efficiency, then by the time the organization catches up to the newest change, the industry is already moving on to the next innovation.
Today’s leaders must reject the common myths of innovation and find the balance between mindless process (beneficial for scaling) and mindful thinking (beneficial for innovating) in order to create an organization that survives and thrives.
These leaders must be able to truly define innovation, implement the necessary operating model to encourage natural creativity in their organizations and understand that process and systems don’t inhibit innovation, but assist it when these structured properly. The leaders who are building businesses of tomorrow know that the innovation can and must be disciplined in order to maximize its effect.
But most importantly, these leaders know that to become a truly great organization, they must balance Lean practices with those of innovation to achieve optimal results.