Featured Product
This Week in Quality Digest Live
Quality Insider Features
Kate Zabriskie
Misguided incentives create misaligned consequences
Chengyi Lin
The right metrics can align objectives in flexible work arrangements
Jake Mazulewicz
Three tips from high-reliability organizations
Aaron Heinrich
An optimal process requires an innovative control algorithm
Dave Gilson
Getting out of the boardroom for a stroll changes how women navigate

More Features

Quality Insider News
Sensors can be customized to meet unique operating and configuration specifications
Founders John Schuldt and Mary Chisholm retiring after 40 years
Reliable, remote visual inspections and diagnostics in hard-to-reach areas
Ideal for dusty manufacturing environments, explosive atmospheres
Optimized for cured tire runout and bulge measurement
With coupling capacitor approach that eliminates the need for an external sensor
High-performance standard and custom silicon and InGaAs photodetectors
Verifying performance of products on tubular disc and cable conveyors

More News

Matthew E. May

Quality Insider

Entrepreneurial Spirit, MIA

Mismanaging new thinking with higher budgets, more layers, and lower expectations

Published: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 13:13

Have you heard any of the following lately?

“I’m OK with how things are.”
“The timing for this isn’t quite right.”
“Seems like a lot of pain for such little gain.”
“We need more buy-in to do this.”
“That may work elsewhere, but not here.”
“We tried something like this before, and it didn’t work.”

These are early warning signs that your once high-spirited organization is vulnerable to what might best be termed “big company sickness.” What is it? It’s something that preys on very successful small businesses. It goes something like this:

As business begins to boom, the fight-to-survive instinct fades, and the entrepreneurial spirit isn’t quite what it was when the company was a startup. Sometimes it’s completely missing in action (MIA). More and more people seem to need more resources to get ideas implemented quickly. Eventually, the ability to flex, react, and innovate is lost.

Addicted to resources

But that’s not how the company began. Maybe it didn’t start in the proverbial basement or garage, but it certainly started with little of everything—money, space, and labor. There was a goal, and a passion for reaching it. Those limits made the company more creative and resourceful than it is today. Today, the addiction to resources is blocking innovation.

There’s a relatively simple, but not necessarily easy, fix. But before revealing it, it helps to physically experience what I’m referring to because the complacency in question has a universal presence, no matter how creative or resourceful we think we are.

Greater potential

Stand up, feet planted shoulder width apart, arms straight out at your sides, parallel to the floor, elbows locked. (Imagine Leonardo da Vinci’s sketch of the Vitruvian Man if you need a visual reference.)

Now, twist your torso all the way to right as far as you possibly can go. Look down your right arm and mentally mark your stopping point on the wall. Remember that mark.

Now, turn back around to face front. Now close your eyes and repeat the exercise, stopping when you think you’ve met your previous stopping point.

Now... go a little past it. Open your eyes.

Most people surpass their previous mark by a good margin, and are surprised when they do. The point is that we generally don’t know what our potential is until we put our capacity on trial. We don’t stretch the limits of what we are actually capable of. But every business needs to constantly stretch in positive ways to move forward and remain relevant.

Embrace limitations

The solution is to treat resource constraints the same way artists do. All artists work within the confines of their chosen mediums, and it’s the limits that spur their creativity. The canvas edge, the marble block, the eight musical notes—these are finite resources. It’s how we view and manage resource constraints that makes all the difference.

And that’s the key question: Are limited resources preventing innovation, or enabling it?

There’s only one right answer.

A team that doesn’t thrive on the challenge of limitations is a sure sign that big company sickness is lurking. It signals an inherent fear of failure in your company. And that spells danger for innovation because most real innovation springs from failure and conflict. The bigger and more successful a company gets, the less tolerance it has for both. So it mismanages a valuable source of new thinking by adding a buffer zone: higher budgets, more layers, and lower expectations.

Unfortunately, success usually isn’t what breeds the kind of thinking that produces the extraordinary results needed to add value and keep competitors at bay. In fact, success can often generate a defensive posture that discourages the very behavior that created it. It can absolutely stifle innovation.

Innovation—which is the specific tool of the entrepreneur—demands exploiting limits, not ignoring or lamenting them!

Is the entrepreneurial spirit fading or missing in your business? How can you reset the bar by recreating the kinds of limitations that drive new thinking?

Reprinted with permission from http://EDITInnovation.com


About The Author

Matthew E. May’s picture

Matthew E. May

Matthew E. May counsels executives and teams through custom designed facilitation, coaching, and training using four basic ingredients: strategy, ideation, experimentation, and lean. He’s been counseling for 30 years, a third of it as a full-time advisor to Toyota. He is the author of four books, the latest The Laws of Subtraction (McGraw-Hill, 2013), and is working on his fifth book. His work has been appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and many other publications. May holds an MBA from The Wharton School and a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.