Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Breakthrough innovation is “simplicity on the far side of complexity.” Post 1

“I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity.”―Oliver Wendell Holmes

the new murphy bedWhat does breakthrough innovation look like?

Let’s start with a common reference point. Say, something boring made stunning.

Something you thought you would never use, like, or buy that you suddenly reconsider.

A friend sent me this great video of modular, multi-purpose furniture. “Yawn,” you say? Look again.

This stuff is elegant and remarkable:

  • Functional: Tables serve as seats or desks. Bed units are also wall units, desks, sofas, etc. Still yawning?  Wait, this is not your grandmother’s Murphy bed.
  • Breakthrough design: A Murphy bed takes up 12” of wall space with a box spring adaptation—it weighs 450 lbs, but operates at a finger touch on a hydraulic lift; a built-in desk does not have to be cleared to fold down; end tables turn into dining room tables to seat eight.
  • Quality: Designs have minimal moving parts, solid steel construction; they work with finger-tip ease and have a life-time warranty.
  • Modern and complementary: Not only does the bed itself have unique and modern style but there is also an entire line of complementary pieces.  And entire apartment can be outfitted with the style and additional space-saving benefits.
  • Differentiator: This changes the way one thinks about multi-purpose furniture, and can change the way the user lives in his or her space.

Everything about this furniture is deliberate, thoughtful, and optimized. Look again at the hinge on the bunk bed at 4:24―it is below center so that the bed folds under the shelf. Even big parts like the fold-down double bed work silently and move effortlessly.

“Complete Design”

Yes, the end product looks so elegant as to be simple. However, as Ron Barth explains, the furniture systems represent “complete design.” They are the culmination of multi-discipline collaboration: every design involves a furniture designer, a mechanical engineer, and a hardware company. This requires collaboration of a higher order.

Something tells me that achieving this level of innovation (balancing creativity, precision, and quality) has inherent challenges. There are three competing value systems and design criteria to balance. And there is risk on the order of magnitude of: “Can this be done?” and “Will it sell?”

This is not for the faint of heart.

Characteristics of the innovation experience

My own experience with product development involved:

  • Researching current market and known market needs and forecasting nascent needs
  • Envisioning a product that does not exist in that market as yet
  • Working across the organization to design and plan
  • Delivering (think pig in a python)

These include and go by many names and disciplines, such as market research and strategy, product management, marketing management. Even project management is brought in for execution. However, one thing was crystal clear: a journey of this kind is not linear and not that predictable.

Innovation requires many different professionals in a process that is intentionally disruptive.

Intentionally disruptive

One can either take a big risk and go for the “big bang” (long development and launch full product) or do more rapid-cycle development. Either way, there are always unknowns, and skeptics abound. One must be constantly re-building commitment in the core team, selling the vision across silos, horse-trading for scope (and resources), modifying and re-prioritizing and re-planning. It is quite the ride.

The changes these products bring often alter the way people do their jobs internally. They disrupt individuals’ expectations and can require them to shift their beliefs and behaviors.

As an example, rolling out online banking for retail customers (I know—it seems ancient now but it was only 15 years ago) changed the way individuals banked and changed the face of banking. Among the changes? Less traffic to branches; more and different inquiries to call centers; different types of fraud and money laundering.  All of these required role and process changes in the organization.

The old-school approach to product development (pretty much top-down, big bang) was complex enough ―now, however, there is pressure to keep market share by rolling out change quickly, even if in smaller pieces.

Now forward-looking organizations run a multi-year, rolling roadmap of product development that provides for frequent new product roll outs. Just think about Apple’s track record since its first mp3 player.  Internally, organizations may be preparing multiple upgrades on the same products concurrently.  This level of complexity creates high levels of change, and corresponding stress and anxiety.

Where do breakthroughs come from?

Imagine that to develop and execute your strategy you need to go beyond the core delivery team to call on the brightest minds across your organization, across your supply chain, across your customer base.

It almost makes me giddy—all that potential is thrilling and daunting at the same time.

The first mindset shift is getting people to maintain two concurrent frames of reference:

  1. Preservation and Optimization: operational efficiency and quality on current daily operations.  This is the safe place for most current leaders.  They are good at it; they derive authority and identity from it.  Bonuses and promotions have been dependent on delivering consistency.
  2. Change, breakdown, re-engineer and re-build: In the design phase there is a need to challenge everything—every premise, every workflow, and every output. This is often difficult for those who designed the current version even while it is thrilling for those newer to the team. In the execution phase, the experience is completely different for start-ups vs. established offers.  Let’s go down the path of replacing an established offer―organizations typically prefer to build a concurrent offer and then transition customers off of the old and onto the new.  This requires organizations to run two offers for the period of the transition.

These two priorities (stability and change) are in conflict with each other and balancing these on a daily basis puts some bandwidth stress, both emotional and physical, on leaders and their teams.

The dream and the reality

Imagine that you can create a customer experience unlike anyone else’s―so simple, seamless, and optimized that your organization is the obvious choice, that even emotional loyalty to an organization that could/would deliver that is outweighed by the pure superiority of the experience itself.

Organizations say they are trying for that every day―yet “stuff” gets in the way:

  • General comments: “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” “We tried this before and failed,” “So this is the latest fad―it will blow over.”
  • Fear and insecurity: “Will I have a job after this change?” and “WIIFM?”
  • Power and ego: “What will my domain look like when this is done?”

The secret weapons: understanding, alignment, and commitment

“Simplicity on the far side of complexity” begins with the leadership team.

It begins with a full and detailed understanding of both the dream and the reality. Most organizations assume this. And we know where this leads.

Most organizations assemble the leadership team to develop and anoint the strategy, and then they parse out the components and expect that it will all synchronize. But it doesn’t.

Conner Partners, with over 40 years of execution experience in observing patterns of winners and losers, has revealed a few potent interventions. Leaders often do believe in the strategy. However, commitment at the outset is usually a superficial “uninformed optimism” that breaks down quickly.

A fuller exploration of the strategic intent and the moving parts of the execution plan up front reveals the conflicts that need to be addressed and resolved.

This is work―it challenges the “stuff” that sabotages strategy. The investment in developing explicit, deliberate, and thoughtful alignment around the impact of the strategy pays off. In that process, real commitment can begin.

On the other side of the strategic intent work we see a much more sober, but clear and committed team. Their understanding of the challenges, the opportunity, and the plan forward is crystal clear. It is a form of simplicity on the other side of complexity.

In the next post we’ll look at the nature of dynamic and collaborative breakthrough innovation.

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1 Comment so far
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Gail, again thanks for a well-written and incisive article. Power-packed truth in this: “The investment in developing explicit, deliberate, and thoughtful alignment around the impact of the strategy pays off. In that process, real commitment can begin.”

Comment by Michael Darmody

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