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Innovation and Learning

Earlier this week I had a post about how learning is essential to the lean mentality.  A video from the Born to Learn website on the My Flexible Pencil blog got me thinking about this subject.

The subject is still on my mind as I work with some of the innovation groups at my company.  These are groups that are coming up with new product ideas for the company.  One process I have been working with the group on is how to collaborate with our suppliers to modify and create better and more cost effective products.

The company has had relationships with the suppliers for 20+ years.  These relationships have strictly been about execution of product manufacturing.  The company would design a product and tell the supplier to build it.  Over the last couple of years, the company has gotten more behind innovation and re-organized its structure to support the new behaviors that are wanted.

Now, the innovation groups would like to have the suppliers’ collaboration in designing new products, defining what technology could be used to meet the consumer insights and how to make it more cost effective.  This is great.  Except there is one catch.  The suppliers have been trained to not make mistakes and just execute.  They have not had the experience of bringing up ideas and even failing with them.  How will the customer react?  Will they be unhappy?  The suppliers are accustomed to having to execute to the specs or receiving lashes for not delivering on time and within cost.

It is similar to telling your kids to sit still and not touch for years.  They become really good at it.  Then all of a sudden telling them they can run around and touch and play with things.  Could you imagine the look of horror on their faces after having the opposite pounded into them until they were incredible at it?

Even in business we have to continue to give outlets and experiences for people to try new things and be accepting of failure.  This doesn’t mean to try anything at anytime and be reckless about it.  But having a plan and trying things that haven’t been done before or even retrying things that were attempted in the past when business conditions were different.

Innovative products, ideas, and processes come from experimenting.  Experimenting is about learning.  So, without learning innovation is not possible.

Why are Lean People Seen as Lean People?

For close to 15 years now, I have been doing lean work.  My learning has mirrored that of most of the U.S.  I started out studying Shingo and implementing tools.  Then I learned about the people side.  As I worked with Toyota, as a supplier, I started to see it all come together as a system.  Now I see the thinking that is the basis of everything we as Lean people talk about.

That is the thing that bothers………lean people or lean thinkers.  Why are we just seen as lean people?  Why aren’t we seen as good business people?  People that can help a business sustain, grow, and become stronger.  That is what we do.  We just do it in a way that is seen as different from the standards that have been laid out generations before us.

Call it lean.  Call it whatever you want.  To me it is good business practice.  Unfortunately…….or fortunately for my career, a vast majority of people can’t see it the way we “lean people” can.

My goal isn’t to be known as a lean expert, but a business expert.  Someone strong in leading, transforming, and growing a business.  How about you?