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Flipping the switch on innovation

While Kotter’s “Leading Change” is still a favorite and one of the most comprehensive works on change, I give authors Chip and Dan Heath high marks for this contribution to the field with “Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard.”

Organizational and personal change is a complex subject, but the Heath brothers offer a framework that certainly helps simplify the process by identifying three key leverage points. While the book’s roots aren’t based in Theory of Constraints,they’ve definitely identified some powerful constraints in their framework:

  1. Lack of clarityWhat looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity – Can’t just tell them to change – they have to know to what to change and how to effect the change.
  2. Mental exhaustion of trying to change What looks like laziness is often exhaustion – Exercising the mental discipline necessary to do something differently is a lot of work, especially if the emotional side of the brain is not on board.
  3. Leaving temptations in placeWhat looks like a people problem is often a situation problem – Give a reformed multi-tasking junkie a smartphone with an unlimited data package and how long will it be before they fall off the wagon?

So how do these concepts apply to improving new product innovation? Well getting more out of any innovation requires organizational change so think about what you can do to address these constraints.

  1. Lack of Clarity – Involve your innovation improvement team in determining potential changes and then pick no more than a handful that can be communicated to the rest of the new products team. Kanban is a particularly effective way to help visualize them visualize the workflow and the changes.
  2. Mental exhaustion of trying to change – You may have a compelling vision and the changes you want to make might be easy to explain intellectually, but have you gotten people on board emotionally? The best way I know to do that is to involve them in identifying the problem and the obstacles to getting around it. They may not come up with the improvements you would have, but they’re more likely to be committed to the ones they developed. Emotional commitment trumps mental fatigue every time.
  3. Leaving temptations in place – Do you find people in your constrained resource area still working on new product projects under the radar? Even after you agreed to stop asking them to multi-task? Have you made it clear to the rest of the organization that they shouldn’t be tempting folks in the bottleneck area. In other words, if they can’t help then at least get out of the way by helping limit distractions.

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