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Akhilesh Gulati

Innovation

Of Soup and Innovation

Organizations that allow time off from routine see their creativity and innovation quotients go up

Published: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 - 11:29

Cooking is not my forte, but I try. I intended my latest concoction to be interesting, new, and easy. It was a soup, made with nontraditional ingredients, and it won rave reviews at a neighborhood potluck. No one could guess all the ingredients, so it won the “unique” dish award. When asked what inspired me, I had to be honest and say, “When you’re not doing the same thing day in and out—that’s when innovation and creativity abound.”

Think back to your first few jobs. Remember when you first started and what your perspective was during the first few months? Did you wonder why things were being done the way they were? Then, as time went on, did you become entrenched in the company culture and fall into the rut everyone else was in? Did you become so steeped in the daily reports, meetings, deadlines, and politics that you stopped thinking creatively?

Sometimes looking at something from a different perspective allows creativity to flourish. Here are three examples of simple ideas making a big impact:
At a shipyard in Wisconsin, it took 40 people and 2 hours to turn a module around before they could start welding again. Nobody gave a second thought to this except for a new employee who arrived on the scene and recommended a change in tool design. The improvement enabled the job to be completed in 15 minutes with just two people.

At a paper mill, piles of wood chips waited to be processed into paper. Bulldozers were required to move the piles around—such a waste of inventory. So, when a team of workers were given the opportunity to work with a consultant on the process (as opposed to in the process), it didn’t take long to identify an innovative approach to change the process and reduce the mountain of chips to a molehill.

The processing of financial-aid applications at an educational institution was a rather complex process. All the variability made employees and the applicants anxious and frustrated; they resigned themselves to the fact that this was how things happened and were generally beyond their control. However, once an outsider was brought in to question their daily activities and interact with a cross-functional team that was removed from its work environment, they were able to be creative and develop innovative ways to address the processing time, ultimately reducing it by 50 percent.

How often have you felt frustrated with the state of things? Why can’t “they” do something? Although there are many examples of teaching structured innovation and implementing process improvement projects, having the right environment to do the work is critical. This means getting away from the daily chores, deadlines, reports, and meetings. It means having the time to think critically, look at the issue with a clear mind, examine it from various angles, take in different points of view, and take an inventory of existing resources, constraints, and technologies.

You may think of this as a waste of productive time, but organizations that allow time off from the day-in-day-out routine see their creativity and innovation quotients go up, improving their competitive position. Whether one is getting creative in the kitchen, the shop floor, or the office, taking a break from the routine and working in a different department or environment can give us the creative kick to create our “unique soup.”

How does your organization promote creativity and innovation? Do you use structured approaches such as TRIZ, the theory of inventive problem solving? What is your creativity and innovative quotient?

Discuss

About The Author

Akhilesh Gulati’s picture

Akhilesh Gulati

Akhilesh Gulati has 25 years of experience in operational excellence, process redesign, lean, Six Sigma, strategic planning, and TRIZ (structured innovation) training and consulting in a variety of industries. Gulati is the Principal consultant at PIVOT Management Consultants and the CEO of the analytics firm Pivot Adapt Inc. in S. California. Akhilesh holds an MS from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and MBA from UCLA, is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and a Balanced Scorecard Professional.