Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Only Certainty Is Uncertainty


The volatile global economy has caused many businesses to invest in predictability. They hire people with strong track records, people who can control every variable of processes and people who can reduce variation and waste.

As they say, variation is the mother of waste. Standard Operating Procedures, policies, policing, management, job aids, training, all of these terms allude to the reduction of waste and the improvement of efficiency.

Very rarely do these terms inspire joy and love of or for the organisation. However, the numbers don't lie. The tighter the ship, the greater the execution.

These are the physics of Execution. Laws like gravity that govern how to get the most out of the least.
Unfortunately, when we talk about Innovation, it's as if we're talking about quantum mechanics. The laws underlying Innovation are totally different from the laws underlying Execution.

"The most fundamental natural law of innovation, is that the only certainty is uncertainty," Prof Jeanne Liedtka, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia.

Therefore, to be innovative, you have to be comfortable with unpredictability, and master synergising all the variables into an iterative design instead of controlling them.

Design itself, as a word, doesn't indicate control, but of acknowledging, adapting to and collaborating with various variables.

We have seen, again and again, where garage startups, with no control structure (but guided by design) grow organically faster than and are far more agile than their long-established behemoth cousins.

The difference doesn't lie in age nor size, it lies in allowing high-variance in innovation activities. Innovation is fragile, not like the robust processes that have been stripped of non-value activities. Ironically, the stronger you grip, the easier it breaks.

The question we should be asking then is, are we controlling our innovation or are we designing it?

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