Clash Of Ideas: The Tension Of Innovation

 

“In every organization we studied, we saw how leaders dealt with this ongoing source of tension.  They made sure the disapproval of more experienced expert members didn’t smother dissension, minority viewpoints, or the fresh perspectives of the inexperienced or the newcomer.  They encouraged constructive disagreement.  They gave people discretionary time to pursue their particular passions.  They recognized that individuals need engagement and connection, as well as intellectual and emotional space, to do their best work.  In short, leaders created places where individuals were willing to contribute their best efforts because they felt not only part of the group but also valued by and valuable to the group.”  -Hill, Brandeau, Truelove, and Lineback via Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation

Too often when we think of creativity and innovation, we think of passion, we think of inspiration, we think of the lone genius, and we think of that ‘aha’ moment where it all comes together.

Too little do we consider and understand the hard work and heavy lift creativity and innovation requires, the tension that arises from the need to engage in the positive conflict and candor necessary to get too the best ideas, and the collective effort that must be invested and expelled both cognitively and emotionally on an ongoing basis to make this work happen.

Inability to comprehend and build understanding around the heavy lift of this work is a disservice to the organization and those engaging in more creative and innovative work.  When we understand the demands, we are better prepared to face them head on.

As the authors of Collective Genius share, “Innovation emerges most often from the collaboration of diverse people as they generate a wide-ranging portfolio of ideas, which they then refine, improve, and even evolve into new ideas through discussion, give and take, and often-heated contention.”  

However, this work seldom flourishes in dysfunctional, command and control environments.  To engage in the candor and “clash of ideas” necessary to move past ‘whose’ idea to the ‘best’ idea requires collaborative environments built upon a foundation of high-levels of trust and empathy.

Without trust and empathy, the ‘best’ ideas never even make it to the table, and most often, they are never even shared.

The most creative and innovative organizations don’t just accept ideas, they engage ideas. They wrestle and fight with ideas, not because they don’t think they are good, but because they want to make them even better.  They learn to not hold any idea too close to the chest, understanding that any idea can be built upon and improved.  They approach the idea process with an attitude of positive “plussing” which allows ideas to expand and evolve.

Which is cognitively and emotionally demanding work.

As the authors of Collective Genius add, “Yet the friction of clashing ideas can be hard to bear.  The sparks that fly in heartfelt discussions can sting.  At a minimum, they can create tension and stress.  Many organizations consequently dislike conflict in any form and try to discourage it.  But blanket condemnation of all strife and conflict will only stifle the free flow of ideas and rich discussions that creative collaboration needs.”

Which requires a different kind of leadership.  Especially if you are going to be able to engage the organization in this level of creative and innovative work, especially on an ongoing basis.  It can be difficult, frustrating and even painful at times, which is why many organizations struggle with truly engaging and sustaining creative and innovative work.

Today’s organizations need leaders who realize the collective commitment and level of collaboration required to engage in this work and who are better prepared to create the conditions to engage it.  Leaders who are emotionally intelligent in supporting their people through the cognitive and emotional demands of the conflict and candor required of “plussing” ideas.  Leaders who can not only create the environment that allows this work to occur, but creates the conditions of trust and empathy necessary to do this work positively and effectively.

As the research of Hill, Brandeau, Truelove, and Lineback shows, “In every organization we studied, we saw how leaders dealt with this ongoing source of tension.  They made sure the disapproval of more experienced expert members didn’t smother dissension, minority viewpoints, or the fresh perspectives of the inexperienced or the newcomer.  They encouraged constructive disagreement.  They gave people discretionary time to pursue their particular passions.  They recognized that individuals need engagement and connection, as well as intellectual and emotional space, to do their best work.  In short, leaders created places where individuals were willing to contribute their best efforts because they felt not only part of the group but also valued by and and valuable to the group.”  

Which requires a different kind of leader and a different set of skill-sets to create the environment and culture to not only do this work, but do it effectively and to sustain it over time.

We live in a time where organizations are not just in want of creative and innovative thinking and action, but require it for ongoing relevance in a world that is shifting and changing in an exponential manner and at an accelerated pace.  And yet, we still struggle to hire and prepare today’s leaders for this new challenge, to lead this work in and across all levels of our modern organizations.

The better we prepare today’s leaders to create the environment for creativity and innovation to exist and flourish, the more relevantly our organizations and individuals will move forward into the future.

“Managing tensions in the organization is an ongoing issue…you don’t want an organization that just salutes and does what you say.  You want an organization that argues with you.  And so you want to nurture the bottoms up, but you’ve got to be careful you don’t just degenerate into chaos.”  -Bill Coughran Google

What’s Your Moonshot?

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“A moonshot taps into human aspirations to achieve something unexpected, difficult, and worthwhile.”  -Goldman and Purmal The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business As Usual

In September of 1962, John F. Kennedy’s speech at Rice University, touched something in all of us.  From expectation to aspiration, his words lifted up the human spirit to reach new heights, to learn to see the impossible as possible, igniting our sense of curiosity, as well as reigniting our passion to pioneer a new way forward, to blaze paths were none existed.

Words that served as the catalyst for Moonshot Thinking…

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Our world has changed a lot since Kennedy’s speech in 1962, but that idea of the Moonshot still seeps into those individuals and organizations that are willing to do what others have not, to challenge themselves and those around them to set the pace, to raise the bar on the idea of possible, to muster up incredible feats of creative and innovative thinking and doing, all in the aim of further, better.  To rekindle and reignite a willingness and “want” to brave the unknown, the uncertain, to move out beyond the bounds and borders of the known and the usual.

To reach for something higher, to bring out the best in each and every one of us…

And while the pace of change has accelerated and the world has determined to move in a much more exponentially manner, the spirit of the Moonshot remains, in us and our organizations that are willing to continually push past the status quo and linear thinking that keeps us entrenched in the known.

The only change may be that our “Moonshots” of the past are quickly becoming “Mars shots” for the future…

As you determine your perspective FOR the future, don’t lose sight of or bury those Moonshots and crazy ideas that often lay buried under the surface.  Remember, so very often, what was considered crazy today, is what changes the world for the better tomorrow.

So as you consider your moonshot, in their work, The Moonshot Effect, Goldman and Purmal give us good understanding of what a moonshot is and that “a moonshot has three essential elements woven into its very fabric:”

IT’S UNEXPECTED: because it lives outside of business as usual, the moonshot is surprising.

IT’S HARD: you cannot transform by doing more of what you’re already doing.  A moonshot demands breakthroughs and disruption.

IT’S WORTH IT: achieving a moonshot represents a major victory, tapping into the innate human aspiration to be the first or best at something.

Very often, especially in getting to those essential elements of a moonshot, a reframe is required.  A reframing of our perspective.  A reframe in how we do, of how we think, of how we work, and even of how we dream.

Out of this reframe, it’s our big questions that become the driver that naturally uncovers our Moonshot…

They move us from the urgent to the important.  They allow us to engage greater empathy and compassion along the way.  They help us to iterate our way forward, determining when a pivot or shift may be necessary or required.  They help us to erect ladders over our barriers and bore holes in our walls.  They move us from “yes, but” to “yes, and” thinking.  They open the door to more experimental, discovery learning (which we could all use a bit more of).  They continually serve as slingshots to our Moonshots.

In closing,

We don’t get a lot of chances to do something truly great in this world…

Finding your Moonshot is that chance, just don’t let it pass you by.

“A moonshot is the antidote to the gravitational pull of day-to-day burdens.  It requires people to discard their business-as-usual habits, and unites them in a collective endeavor to achieve something extraordinary.  In the process, the teams and leaders who set out on the mission are transformed through the moonshot effect.”  -Goldman and Purmal The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business As Usual

So, what’s your Moonshot?

 

Building Adaptive Capacity: The Rise of The Dilemma

 

“The dilemmas of the future will be more grating, more gnawing, and more likely to induce feelings of hopelessness.  Leaders must be able to flip dilemmas around and find the hidden opportunities.  Leaders must avoid oversimplifying or pretending that dilemmas are problems that can be solved.  Dilemma flipping is a skill that leaders will need in order to win in a world dominated by problems that nobody can solve.”  -Bob Johansen Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World

In an age proliferated by the exponential rise of adaptive challenges and unsolvable dilemmas, we still find that our organizational environments and cultures remain awash in a sense of solutionitis.  In the face of these challenges and dilemmas, we see leaders and organizations inevitably switch to choosing veneer answers and short-term solutions, when, in fact, deeper questions and long-term considerations are not only what is needed, but are in their best interest for future relevance in a world aimed at accelerated obsolescence.

Too often we treat these adaptive challenges and dilemmas as problems to be quickly dismissed and solved, we jump to simplicity without gaining a full grasp of their complexity, we shape a solution without diving deeper to determine the depth of the challenge, and we continue to formulate our answers before we truly comprehend whether or not we are asking the right questions.

In a sense, we thrive on this want and need to provide certainty in a time of great uncertainty.

Unfortunately, the more we try to provide this sense of certainty to these challenges, the more we tend to jump into solutionitis mode.  And yet, what we find is that the more we work to engage short-term fixes to these dilemmas we now face, the more we create individual and organizational confusion, frustration, dysfunction and disconnection are created.

Rather, in the midst of these dilemmas and adaptive challenges, we must move from being solution-focused to opportunity-open.  

In the fog of this uncertainty, complexity and even chaos that arrives with these challenges, we must learn to be open to the new opportunities that they create for us and our organizations.  As Bob Johansen shares in Leaders Make the Future, “The challenge for leaders is to flip a dilemma into an opportunity.”  Or, for which he adds, “Dilemma flippers have the ability to make their way through hopelessness into hope.”

Which often starts when leaders building their capacity and ability to more effectively determine whether they are facing a problem, or a dilemma or adaptive challenge.  Understanding the difference between the two and engaging strategies and processes to approach them more effectively can lead to greater individual and organizational clarity and coherence in moving forward into the future.

Google shares that “the difference between a problem and dilemma is that problem is a difficulty that has to be resolved or dealt with while dilemma is a circumstance in which a choice must be made between two or more alternatives that seem equally undesirable.”  In Leaders Make the Future, Bob Johansen adds that “dilemmas of the future have the following characteristics: unsolvable, recurrent, complex and messy, threatening, confusing, puzzling, and potentially positive.”  While, Ronald Heifitz reminds us as we approach this work of dealing with dilemmas is that, “The single biggest failure of leadership is to treat adaptive challenges like technical problems.”

In Leaders Make the Future, Ingar Skaug from the Center for Creative Leadership, shares a few techniques in dealing more effectively with dilemmas and complex challenges…

  1. Stand in different places: I can change my point of view by turning the problem upside down.”
  2. Using lenses from other domains: If I am a scientist, I may visualize the dilemma from the point of view of a policymaker.”
  3. Ask powerful questions: I can immerse myself in possible scenarios and “what ifs.”
  4. Foster new knowledge: I can spend time with others who are impacted by this dilemma and understand their point of view.”
  5. Create an innovation journal: It can be public or private way to think through my questions.”
  6. Change the pace of attention: I can change the speed at which I approach the dilemma.”

In the end, greater clarity and coherence is created when we truly understand whether we are facing a problem or an adaptive challenge or dilemma, as well as being able to create the appropriate individual and organizational expectations towards the outcomes we are seeking to each one, which is incredibly important in times of greater uncertainty and complexity.

Which often starts by understanding that what worked in the past will not necessarily work in the future…and may just be the first step in understanding this tremendous and exponential shift from technical problems to a world now awash in dilemmas and adaptive challenges.

“Making the future starts with listening and making sense.”  -Bob Johansen Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World

The Hive Mind: Moving Past Conformity To Greater Capacity And Collective Intelligence

 

“The speed and interdependence of the modern environment create complexity.  Coupling shared consciousness and empowered execution creates an adaptable organization able to react to complex problems.”  -via Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement For A Complex World

We live in a time when we are truly seeing the importance of greater organizational adaptability and overall agility to not only parallel pace the turbulent pace of change, but to hold onto some semblance of relevance in a world that is bent on discontinuity and the speed of next.

The greatest risk in our modern world is often our inability or unwillingness to take a risk.  It is this type of VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) environment that not only necessitates, but requires an enhanced ability to work more effectively in team settings, collaborate at a much higher and efficient level, as wells as create and utilize more expansive internal and external networks to leverage greater learning and idea flow throughout the organization, at all levels.

Especially if the concept of continuous improvement is our focus…

We can no longer entrench ourselves in the successes of the past, mire ourselves in outdated strategies, practices, processes and structures, or allow the overwhelming pace and speed of change to stagnate us in decision paralysis, especially if we are to remain relevant to the exponential shifts that are occurring across the entirety of our societal ecosystem.

The disruptions we are witnessing, driven by this technological transformation, are emerging not as events…but rather, as daily occurrences.

As is shared in Team of Teams, “An organization should empower its people, but only after it has done the heavy lifting of creating shared consciousness.”  Unfortunately, too many organizations err too far on one side or the other: they either provide autonomy without creating the capacity to fully utilize that autonomy, or they build up individual and organizational capacity and fail to provide the autonomy or empower their people effectively.  Both of which end in frustration at all levels of the organization, doing little to enhance individual or organizational adaptability or agility.

Today’s leaders need to look to ways to not only engage the collective intelligence that resides in an organization, but amplify that “shared consciousness” towards greater collective capacity in an environment that empowers people to make better decisions as they adapt to the complex conditions they face on a daily basis.

Thomas Seeley, Professor at Cornell University, provides a five ways (via Wired and HBR) we can tap into this “hive mind” for enhancing greater collective intelligence in our teams and organizations:

  • Create groups with mutual respect, shared interests and foster mutual respect.
  • Minimize the leaders influence on group thinking. 
  • Seek and explore diverse solutions to the problem, to maximize the group’s likelihood of uncovering an excellent option.
  • Aggregate the group’s knowledge through frank debate.
  • Use quorum responses for speed, cohesion, and accuracy, balancing interdependence and independence. 

Our ability to tap more effectively into the knowledge and ideas that exist within our teams, groups and networks will allow us to create deeper and more expansive collective capacity that will enhance our ability to not only amplify this organizational idea flow, but empower our people to adapt to this new knowledge with the autonomy to implement and utilize ideas that improve an organization’s ability to work towards and emerge more effectively as a culture of continuous improvement.

Connecting Dots In Real Time

 

We’ve built the ship for efficiency, stability and sustainability…

The question now becomes, can we rebuild and recreate it for speed, agility and adaptability?

Have we noticed the world has changed, and not in subtle, but often exponential ways?

Are we aware that the speed and turbulence of change has and is accelerating at an unprecedented rate?

Can we see how disruptive this technological (fourth industrial) revolution has been and will be in the future?

In a world that often supports that tagline adapt or die, nothing less than organizational transformation is sufficient for survival in a world gone VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous).

We cannot bury our head in the sand and believe that the disruption that stands at our doorstep will pass us by unnoticed.  The shifts are too enormous to be ignored.

If we are not careful, if we remain more lethargic than proactive to the changes we do and will face, we may find our future mirroring the Parable of the Boiled Frog.  Or as Hemingway states, “gradually, then suddenly” may very well define the discovery of just how disruptive “1” degree can shift the environment in which we exist.

The ambiguity of today’s world is leaving us awash in anxiety.  Fear and uncertainty often makes us recoil from the plethora of unknowns we face, further entrenching us in status quo thinking and doing.  The permanence of the past is an illusion in today’s turbulent and accelerated world.

We can’t conquer the ambiguity and uncertainty that this new world creates, but we can learn to adapt ourselves to it. We can learn to parallel pace this heightened speed of change by becoming more agile, in adjusting quicker and more effectively to the shifts that it provokes in our individual and organizational lives.

To attain the level of adaptability and agility necessary to deal more relevantly with these exponential shifts and the new levels of complexity that accompany them, it will ultimately require us as individuals and organizations to engage in learning that: builds greater individual and organizational capacity, is more strategic and intentional, provokes intrinsic motivation, is continuous and evolving, leverages ‘best’ practices while engaging in ‘next’ practices, creates greater idea flow through the use of internal and external collaborations and networks, is based in a want for better, while being focused on the tenets and principles of continuous improvement.

Technology isn’t just driving innovation…it’s changing our mental models and disrupting the entire ecosystem of the future.

To keep pace in this new world, we will have to become much better in connecting dots in real time, and to do this, we will ultimately find that our ability to learn, and to connect that learning in new and novel ways, becomes our best advantage.

“Though we know far more about everything in it, the world has in many respects become less predictable.  Such unpredictability has happened not in spite of technological progress, but because of it.”  -via Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World

Networks: An Engine For Scaling Learning And Innovation (Part 1)

 

“It is not simply the brightest who have the best ideas; it is those who are best at harvesting ideas from others.  It is not only the most determined who drive change; it is those who most fully engage with like-minded people.  And it is not wealth or prestige that best motivates people; it is respect and help from peers.”  -Alex Pentland Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – The Lessons from a New Science

We live in a hyperconnected world, which in many ways has provided us a wealth of access and answers to the challenges that we face, while adding new complexities to an already complex world.   In the midst of this hyperconnected world, we are seeing the rapid rise of networks, both informal and formal, serving as engines for new learning and innovation.  The Stanford Social Innovation Review shares, “With the rise of new digital media platforms and social networks, people are absorbing information at a greater velocity and from a wider set of channels than ever before; they are also using that information in new ways.”  For which they add, “Leadership has become distributed and collaborative.  The new reality is that leaders don’t lead alone.  We are all part of a much broader problem-solving network, with many high-performing organizations and individuals-public and private-working on different parts or the same problem or even the same part of the same problem.  The most influential members of the collaborative are increasingly harnessing new technology to share ideas, get real-time feedback, and build knowledge for the field.  Leaders are no longer just steering their own ship; they are helping a network solve problems with the best and must current thinking available.”

It is in this hyperconnected world that we are just beginning to see new distinctions drawn between what some term as communities and networks (communities vs. networks).  While there are distinctions between the two, the better option is in enhancing and leveraging both for better access to greater learning and innovation.  This is best achieved by engaging the AND of both communities AND networks.  As Team BE of Wenger-Traynor state, “For most groups, however, the aspects are combined in various ways.  A community usually involves a network or relationships.  And many networks exist because participants are all committed to some kind of joint enterprise.”  So, while we’ve become much more accustomed to working in “communities” of learning and practice within our organizations, the digital transformation and this hyperconnected world has led to an exponential rise and engagement in both formal and informal networks to support and infuse greater idea flow and new learning into our organizations, leading to better innovative value for both our individuals and organizations.  As Alex Pentland shares in Social Physics, “In the last few years, however, our lives have been transformed by networks that combine people and computers, allowing much greater participation and much faster change.”  

In Learning to Improve, Bryk and his co-authors build on this idea of AND, drawing on the work of Douglas Engelbart in what he termed Networked Improvement Communities (NIC).  It is in this Networked Improvement Community that Engelbart has created an ABC Model for Continuous Improvement.  As Bryk shares in Learning to Improve, there are “three interrelated levels of learning” which serves as the basis for this ABC Model.

Level-A which “represents the knowledge acquired by front-line workers as they engage in their practice.”

Level-B which is when “learning occurs across individuals within a workplace.”

Level-C which is when learning occurs “across institutions.”

This idea of an ABC Model for Continuous Improvement and Networked Improvement Communities was cast over 35 years ago by Engelbart in his assessment and determination that the “complexity and urgency [of world problems] are increasing exponentially, and the product of the two will soon challenge our organizations and institutions to change in quantum leaps rather than incremental steps.”

The one thing to realize is that most organizations, even individuals for that matter, do not operate well in all three (ABC) of these learning areas.  Engelbart shares that “most organizations operate in at least two dimensions,” which is most often Level A and B.

Which is where much of our future work in networks lies, especially since Level C work is vital to improving the learning and the innovative work of our individuals and organizations.

As Engelbart shares, “Most organizations already have all three activities going on, but the ‘C’ activity is generally pretty haphazard and the ‘B’ activities suffer accordingly.”  Whether Engelbart or Bryk’s work in Learning to Improve, we see an emphasis on the importance Level-C.

As Bryk adds in Learning to Improve in regards to Level-C learning, “It is an especially potent form of knowledge generated as ideas are elaborated, refined, and tests across many different contexts.  The development of Level-C learning is not a simple, naturally occurring extension of Level-A and -B learning.  Rather it requires deliberate organization.  It is catalyzed and orchestrated by a network hub and relies on appropriate technologies for rapid communications about insights developing across distributed sites.  Operating in this way enables a network to accelerate how it learns.”  For which Bryk adds, “When individual insights are systematically pooled, collective capabilities grow.  Moving this to Level-C learning radically speeds up this social learning process.  When many more individuals, operating across diverse contexts, are drawn together in a shared learning enterprise, the capacity grows exponentially.”

Understanding the value and importance of networks and the platform they provide for the acceleration of social learning is going to be vital to the future relevance of our organizations as we seek to improve both individual and organizational learning and capacity.  In a world of exponential shifts, the only true advantage to parallel pacing the speed of change that we are will be facing, will be found in how we enhance and improve our ability to learn, at pace and scale.

“It seems that the key to harvesting ideas that lead to great decisions is to learn from the successes and failures of others and to make sure that the opportunities for this sort of social learning are sufficiently diverse.”  Alex Pentland Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread-The Lessons from a New Science

 

In Consideration Of Continuous Improvement: Part I

 

“Now we need something Dramatically Different from “getting better” – from even getting “a whole lot better” – at what we did for a couple of hundred years.  Now we need train ourselves to play and Entirely New Game…a game called Re-imagine, in which the rules that define “better” no longer apply.”  -Tom Peters via Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age

Since the early 1900’s, with the rise of Taylorism and the Principles of Scientific Management, we have focused our systems, organizations and individuals on maximum efficiency and standardization of best practices.  The factory model.  In many ways, it was the automation of the late 19th and 20th century, except the automation was of us, rather than the robots of the 21st century that are quickly beginning to take center stage.  It was a focus of efficiency…and for many years and in many ways it worked for what it was aimed at, ultimate productivity.

However, what we are finally beginning to realize is that what’s efficient isn’t always effective, and what’s effective isn’t always effecient.  What has served us well through the late 19th and 20th century is no longer effective for the world that we now live in.  The factory model of efficiency and the hierarchical, command and control style of leadership that accompanied it have lost relevance in a world that is changing, shifting and accelerating at a turbulent pace and rapid rate.

As General Stanley McChrystal shares in Team of Teams, “Over time we came to realize that more than our foe, we were actually struggling to cope with an environment that was fundamentally different from anything we’d planned or trained for.  The speed and interdependence of events had produced new dynamics that threatened to overwhelm the time-honored processes and culture we’d built.  Little of our transformation was planned. Few of the plans that we did develop unfolded as envisioned.  Instead, we evolved in rapid iterations, changing – assessing – changing again.”  For which he adds, “The environment in which we found ourselves, a convergence of twenty-first-century factors and more timeless human interactions, demanded a dynamic, constantly adapting approach.”  As he adds, “continual adaption had transformed it into a fundamentally new organization – one that functioned using distinctly different processes and relationships.”

What General McChrsytal shares in Team of Teams is a lesson that we must realize, and internalize very quickly.  A lesson of what served us well in the past, may well no longer serve us well in the present or the future.  And in many ways, it is those successes of the past that often entrench us and push us towards irrelevance in the future.  For which McChrystal purports, “We’re not lazier or less intelligent than our parents or grandparents, but what worked for them simply won’t do the trick for us now.  Understanding and adapting to these factors isn’t optional; it will be what differentiates success from failure in the years ahead.”

Which will require deep reflection as we determine next steps, both as individuals and as organizations.

We can no longer march along in a linear and predictable fashion and hope that it will be business as usual in the future.  We live in a time of heightened chaos urged on by the turbulent pace and nature of change, supported by accelerated obsolescence and discontinuity, which is leading to greater feelings of uncertainty, ambiguity and anxiety in the present and for the future.  Leading us as individuals and organizations to recoil back to the safety of status quo, of what we’ve always known and done.  What we fail to realize, in the midst of this upheaval and chaos, we will find signals of opportunity, if we are willing to brace ourselves to face the storm in which those signals are emanating out from.

And like many signals, they raise questions that we must consider.

What do we sustain?  Where do we need to change?  Are we adapting effectively to the pace of change?  Do we keep the current direction, or is a pivot necessary?  Are we future-casting and preparing for the shifts we will face in the future?  Are the outcomes we are chasing leading us to the vision we’ve determined?  Are we entrenched in status quo, or are we growing, learning and improving, both as individuals and as an organization?

It is in our questions and reflection that we find our way forward in a world that has shifted from technical problems to adaptable challenges.  It is where we find the willingness and agility to dig past the processes and structures that keep us entrenched in stasis and status quo thinking and doing.

As Atul Gawande shares in Better, “Betterment is a perpetual labor.  The world is chaotic, disorganized, and vexing, and medicine is nowhere spared that reality.  To complicate matters, we in medicine are also only humans ourselves.  We are distractible, week, and given to our own concerns.”  For which he continues, “The question, then, is not whether one accepts the responsibility.  Just by doing this work, one has.  The question is, having accepted the responsibility, how one does such work well.”

Which brings us back to this idea of ‘continuous improvement’ and what that really means for us as individuals and organizations.  A concept that may have been focused more on efficiency, than it has been aimed at effectiveness.  In many ways, we have layered our ‘factory model’ way of thinking upon this concept.  It is this belief that if we work ‘harder’ then things will be ‘better’.  But that is not the reality we currently face, from business to government, and education.  As General McChrystal purports, “All the efficiency in the world has no value if it remains static in a volatile environment.”

Rather, we will need to not only work smarter, but very often, differently.  We are approaching a time where living in beta and constant iteration will be the way we approach our work.  A constant iteration of what sustains, what adapts, and what transforms.

However, first and foremost, this idea of ‘better’ and ‘continuous improvement’ requires a decision, a decision to become uncomfortable, both as individuals and as organizations.  For stretching ourselves towards this concept of ‘continuous improvement’ is not always a comfortable situation, as it requires learning, unlearning, relearning, shifting, adapting, and changing.  A beta mindset.

However, as mentioned before, just working harder will not necessarily get us moving towards a state of ‘continuous improvement’.

It will require AND.  Too often we find ourselves creating situations of either/or thinking that limit the AND that leads to our ability to improve and ‘plus’ our strategies, processes and organizational structures forward.  So, as we consider how to push forward towards ‘better’ let’s consider the AND of 3I’s that can support an environment of ‘continuous improvement’ in our organizations.

Innovation AND Improvement Science AND Implementation Science.

Unless we are going to continue focusing on efficiency and harder, then innovation will be necessary to moving us forward, in meeting the future more effectively.  However, better understanding innovation will allow us to move our organizations more effectively towards ‘continuous improvement’.  Too often, we associate innovation only with change, with the novel and new, when what we need to better understand is that innovation, at its best, is focused on creating value.  Innovation, when focused on value, not only improves the effectiveness of organizations to better support our individuals in their work, it allows us to remain more relevant moving into the future.

However, innovation is only point form which to start, for innovation alone is not enough to support this idea of ‘continuous improvement’.  We have to determine if the why, how and what of our innovative efforts is creating value for our people and our organization.  Which goes back to knowing what to sustain and where and what to iterate or change, as well as engaging our ability to remain agile and adaptable, to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Which brings the AND into our innovation efforts through the I of Improvement Science, providing us a framework to determine if our innovation is adding value to and for our people and our organization.  The Carnegie Foundation provide us with Six Core Principles of Improvement that can be used to support our innovative efforts through Improvement Science.

Which they share as:

(1) Make the work problem-specific and user-centered.  “It starts with a single question: What specifically is the problem we are trying to solve…”

(2) Variation in performance is the core problem to address.  “The critical issue is not what works, but rather what works…”

(3) See the system that produces the current outcomes.  “It is hard to improve what you do not fully understand…”

(4) We cannot improve at scale what we cannot measure.  “Embed measures of key outcomes and processes to track if change is an improvement…”

(5) Anchor practice improvement in disciplined inquiry.  “Engage rapid cycles of Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) to learn fast, fail fast, and improve quickly…”

(6) Accelerate improvements through networked communities. “Embrace the wisdom of crowds…”

These Six Principles of Improvement allow us to better determine the effectiveness of our innovative efforts, allowing us to be more agile, adaptive both as individuals and organizations in iterating our way forward more effectively.  Especially, if the goal of innovation is to create value and move us closer towards this concept of ‘continuous improvement’.

While Improvement Science provides a positive framework for iterating our innovative efforts forward, the I of Implementation Science is an AND that adds and plusses forward the idea of ‘continuous improvement’, especially in support of our innovative efforts.

As the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) shares, “Implementation Science is the study of factors that influence the full and effective use of innovations in practice.  The goal is not to answer factual questions about what is, but rather to determine what is required.  In Implementation Science, implementation factors are identified or developed and demonstrated in practice, to influence the full and effective use of innovations.”  

And while Implementation Science has “Implementation Drivers” and “Improvement Cycles” (not covered in this article), they also have what they call “Implementation Stages” which are considered to be “dynamic” processes that exist within an organization as they move forward with their innovative efforts.

Which they share as:

Exploration Stage:  “taking the time for exploration saves time and money and improves chances for success…”  “Readiness is assesses, as well as created…”

Installation Stage:  “the function is to acquire or repurpose the resources needed to do the work ahead, effectively…”

Initial Implementation:  “when innovation is being used for the first time…attempting to use the newly learned skills…learning how to change to accommodate and support the new ways of work…”

Full Implementation:  “new ways of providing services are now the stand ways of work…leaders must continually adjust organizational supports to facilitate the work…systems continue to change…”

As NIRN shares, “Effective implementation bridges the divide between science and practice.  It is not just in developing these practices, it is in transferring and maintaining these practices in real world settings that make it a long and complex process.”

In closing this first look at the concept of individual and organizational ‘continuous improvement’, understanding how we connect dots and engage the idea of AND is what will allow us to continue to find ways to constantly and effectively get better.  It will not only allow us to innovate in ways that allow us to parallel pace the constancy and speed of change, but provide us processes and strategies that better support and determine if how we are innovating is providing ongoing value for our people and our organization.

Effectively determining what is necessary of sustaining and what will require transformation.

“Arriving at meaningful solutions is an inevitably slow and difficult process.  Nonetheless, what I saw was: better is possible.  It does not take genius.  It takes diligence.  It takes moral clarity.  It takes ingenuity.  And above all, it takes a willingness to try.”  -Atul Gawande via Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance