innovation as the enemy of maturity

In my previous article, maturity as the enemy of innovation, I identified the destructive forces of organizational maturity. As an engineer, I cannot allow a problem to go unsolved.

To stem the tide of chronic risk aversion, we must imprint the entrepreneurial spirit into the culture as a core value. The courage to initiate calculated risk-taking needs to be admired and rewarded. The stigma associated with failure must be removed by appreciating the knowledge gained through lessons learned.

The cost of research and experimentation must be reduced. The pace of development must be rapid. These are achieved by keeping the team size small. The most risky and unproven ideas should be attacked by an individual, not a team. Functional teams need alignment on direction and a degree of agreement. Revolutionary advancement is frequently the result of radical thinking. New directions, different techniques, and breaking well-established rules are unpopular, especially to those with emotional investments in past innovations. There are fewer disagreements in a small team, and none at all in a team of one.

Uniformity of thinking leads to stagnation. Diversity must be encouraged, and this is promoted through a free market for ideas. Organizations that rely on a command-and-control style of management to set direction eliminate the competition that nurtures a diversity of ideas. Management should empower technical decision-making to be done bottom-up rather than top-down.

Once new ideas have been adequately proven, there must be ways of teaching them to others and incorporating them into product. Product development is often done sequentially, one release at a time. The immediate release focuses on short term commitments, and the delivery is usually constrained by schedules and costs that can ill afford risk. Riskier development must be allowed to proceed concurrently on longer-term schedules, without overly constraining the process. Developments from the unstable branch should be merged into the main product release, as they become ready. This provides an environment to accommodate both risky development and risk-averse development.

The above techniques can be effective in remedying the organizational impediments to innovation. However, there are also commercial impediments that must be overcome. That will be the topic of my next article.

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