Making case for systematic innovation in consulting

I am in the idea business for about 7 years now, usually my kitty is small in terms of budget to spend, management attention, and customer appetite to ideas. Problems/Opportunities are as always many and wide. Making this a green territory for the consultant in me. 3 realities that I face are pictured below. I will then pick reasons from each and make case for the consultant in you to learn a systematic innovation method this year. It is still not too late for a resolution.

First no one including you, your boss, his/her boss, their customer, his/her investor knows for sure which will be the greatest idea (since sliced bread, iPhone, facebook, flush toilet, the movable type, safety-pin, or whatever). Greatest here is one that gives max return, finds large customer base, impacts life, etc on the outcome side. So I go for safety with numbers, instead of the 2 large bets can I get 200 ideas and later ruthlessly eliminate, or make ideas robust socially from that base before investing. If I knew how to get from 2 to 200 ideas in say 4 hours.

Second, problems manifest as contradictions or trade offs. When I try to solve one problem I have only merely shifted its base to a different department, or another part of the system. Examples could be while increasing revenue there is a disproportionate increase in marketing costs as well, while scaling up operations fast there is also significant loss of critical substance/knowledge, by increasing hourly rates am I killing a customer account slowly, and more such combinations. I don’t want to compromise on anything really, we just yet don’t know how.

Third is on the search for the rare breed genius/creative person that all of us want in our team. My experience is hugely disappointing in this front, because I can never afford this “genius in residence” and wait for the eureka moment. Instead I take safety in history, all problems that can be solved, have already been solved (by all those dead geniuses I don’t have to pay for) and I just have to adapt the solutions for my situation. Again if only I knew how.

So in short here are the 3 different reasons why you need to add ‘systematic innovation’ to your consulting arsenal/portfolio,

  1. To take safety in large number of ideas
  2. To not compromise on outcomes or merely shift problems
  3. Not afford another unpredictable genius to solve problem that have been solved elsewhere

It does not matter much what that specific innovation method is, but Sensei is guaranteeing a sharper edge to you.


Why do you Smoke?

“Why do you smoke?” is one of the most ridiculous questions to ask any smoker. I have dodged this for more than 15 years now, with some frowns or attitude statements or some such non sense for e.g. economics is irrational so is smoking or simply because I have the right to smoke or it is the fault of marketing to our generation from the multi-national corporations or it is a man thing or it is genetic.

Time has come now to answer and at least avoid the question from whoever reads this.

1. It is a part of me, as my identity, my daily pattern, my external appearance, my presence, my voice (notice that deep S and H and the occasional coughs), without it I feel incomplete. And it is nothing extra also. It also nicely fits into most routines unless you keep going around the world on back to back flights.

2. It is a great accompaniment to boredom, action, reflection, reading and suits well for most places

3. Smoker conversations are better than non-smokers especially if you have found your gang, and your times match. It is as if a level of meaning gets added to the conversation that you some times get suggestions to do a back to back smoke just to continue the conversation. Typically there are no fillers in smoker conversations, the smoke is the filler, if you don’t have anything to say simply smoke. Unlike the non-smoker conversations that goes on with endless slow fillers like “So…”, “Interesting…”, “Cool, Cool…”

4. Without doing anything you get a sense of accomplishment, this is I think unique to smoking. Wally’s coffee comes close to what I am saying here.

5. A ritual that I feel people associate me with, at least I assume this and use the chance to smoke, when meeting, even the advice each one gives to stop/reduce becomes part of it. For them to keep doing what they are doing, I have to continue smoking.

6. It is death personified and it is so around us everyday, it feels good to relate with it, yeah I am taking it too far. From what Camus says about suicide as “one truly serious philosophical problem”, it makes sense to ask it a couple of times daily.

Still burning…

Alt: Quitters don’t smoke and smokers don’t quit


Head, Hand and Heart for Change

I am not a philosophy major, but I understand the differences between reason, will and desire. In a corporate setting, most published “content type” from top is just plain reasons viz. whys to do something, to approve a budget, to take up a new initiative, an ROI and more such. But the will and desire are left out mostly. When you hear “to lead by example or walk the talk”, it is an indication of will, and when you hear “did not feel like doing it” “ Yes, but…” it is an indication of desire (or the lack of). At this point, we depart from the simple system definition to one in the complex domain as the agents and actions are intertwined. Will and desire (or the lack of) spreads faster and influence actions more than the published reasons. To work only with reason and undermine will and desire is a forceful push from the complex domain to simple domain.

A simple framework for action/change thus in any reasonable sized system should handle all 3 (reason, will and desire). One may be more magnified than the other, and in fact, they should be. When this happens, a series of actions unfolds with no clear attribution possible. These are system responses and agents are playing part. Here is where stories that people tell each other and social objects come in, bringing players from all over the system for action willingly.

A simple metaphor for this framework is the simple head-hand-heart to reason-will-desire respectively. In action/change scenarios, all 3 operate simultaneously, but you can never determine outcomes. If boundary conditions are favorable, outcomes are impactful and always contextual.

Now to orient a bunch of leaders on this head-hand-heart framework is easy, make a list of past failed initiatives like below

  Head/Reason Hand/Will Heart/Desire
Initiative 1 <<Enter biz case/ROI/5W etc>>    
Initiative 2   <<Enter policy change, mobilized support, experiments done etc>>  
Initiative 3     <<Enter social objects, desires tapped, etc>>
Initiative n      

When you fill this up, you will notice that the last column will be the most sparsely filled or even empty.

Coming from an industry that runs on perennial initiative fatigue, I was not surprised when I filled one for myself.

Try it …