Tag Archives: ” Roger Martin

8 Assumptions and 8 Questions about Innovation

Even the staid British publication The Economist recently claimed, “Innovation is now recognized as the single most important ingredient in any modern economy.” 
(Tom Kelley:  The Ten Faces of Innovation)


For the SMU Cox School of Business – Business Leadership Center, I recently presented my new session on innovation:  Adaptation, Exaptation, Innovation:  Processes and Environments That Invite Successful Innovation.

I quote from many books that discuss creativity and innovation, including books by Tom Kelley, Steven Johnson, Gary Hamel, Twyla Tharp, Bernd Schmitt, and Roger Martin, among others.  As I developed the material, I stole/borrowed/compiled/wrote eight assumptions about our current situation, and asked 8 questions…  Here are the assumptions and questions:

 • 8 Assumptions:

1)    What worked yesterday will not work as well tomorrow
2)    Someone is trying – now! — to leave you in the dust
3)    Everyone; every product; every process…can get better
4)    Creativity, as a habit, can be developed
5)    Innovation, as a practice, can be achieved
6)    It takes time, training, effort to be creative, and to be innovative
7)    It is far better (it works best) to be innovative “together”
8)    Innovation is a habit/a discipline/a routine – in other words, it needs constant attention and focus…  always

• 8 Questions for the Innovator:

1)    What are we doing now that could be done better tomorrow?  (hint – practically everything)
2)    What could we learn from a totally unexpected source/field/discipline?
• how could we take some “field trips” – how could we open our eyes a little wider?
3)    What could we learn from the best within our industry?
4)    What could we learn from the worst in our industry (what should we never do?)
5)    Where are our bottlenecks – how are we killing good ideas?
6)    Where are our records – that is, where are we recording all of our possible good ideas?  (Where are we losing our good ideas?)
7)    Where do people experience hassles, of any kind, in their interactions with us?  How can we get rid of these hassles?
8)    And – what could go wrong?  (Beware of the problem of unintended consequences. – Consider the parable of the “free refill”).

A Quote for the Day – From Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer

The design thinker, in the words of novelist Saul Bellow, is “a first-class noticer.”
(from The Design of Business by Roger Martin).

Here’s a quote from Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Power – Why Some People Have it and Others Don’t:

Watch those around you who are succeeding, those who are failing, and those who are just treading water.  Figure out what’s different about them and what they are doing differently.  That’s a great way to build your diagnostic skill – something useful in becoming an organizational survivor.

Pay attention.  Keep paying attention.  Those who pay careful attention really do have the advantage over those who go through life in some kind of oblivious fog.


I will be presenting my synopsis of Power at the January First Friday book Synopsis.

Stop, look, listen – Three Failings at the top levels of Toyota

Time has a terrific overview, with some insightful analysis, on the Toyota meltdown: Behind the Troubles at Toyota by Bill Saporito with Michael Schuman and Joseph Szczesny.  Here are three key excerpts:

“The big deal is this question, Does an organization know how to hear and respond to weak signals, which are the problems, or does it have to hear strong signals? You have to listen to weak signals. By the time you get to strong signals, it’s too late.” (Steven Spear of MIT, author of Chasing the Rabbit: How Market Leaders Outdistance the Competition and an expert in the dynamics of high-performance companies).

When weak signals started coming out in 2002, Toyota’s top management wasn’t listening.

Complexity is the enemy of any manufacturer, and rapid growth increases it.

We’ve already posted a couple of times about Toyota’s failed crisis management (its “dreadful crisis management,” says the Time article).  It is clear that they knew of their problems long before the current crisis.  The Time article points out that the first National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigations came in 2003.

I keep thinking about the counsel I get consistently from the best business books, and one clear and oft-repeated message is this:
stop, look, pay attention, spot problems, and open your mouth loudly to call attention to these problems!

Here’s a quote that might put it in simple English:

The design thinker, in the words of novelist Saul Bellow, is “a first-class noticer.”
(from The Design of Business by Roger Martin).

The process really is simple. Make sure you have a number of “first-class noticers” in your company, encourage them to notice things, and listen to them, actually listen to them, when they tell you something.

Toyota had these “weak signals” coming at them, but they did not pay attention.  I suspect that workplace segregation played a key role – the people at the top just simply do not interact often enough with the rest of the people in the real world, from employees to vendors to customers…  (Note:  “interact with” means have conversations with means listen to…)  And, as the Time article says, “by the time you get strong signals, it’s too late.”

So it seems to me that this rather old and well-worn advice could have been pretty helpful:

Stop – look – listen.

4 Steps along the Path of Life-Long Learning – or, Why should we read business books?

After reading the book, I wrote this on my handout of my synopsis for The Design of Business by Roger Martin:

A blinding flash of the obvious:  — everything can be done better; there will be new things done; you (and I) have to get better at getting better at making everything better…
• “the design thinker lives to advance knowledge!”

With practically every book I read, I realize that this quest for life-long learning is a real one, and incredibly important to pursue.  And as close as I can tell, this is the path to follow:

Step 1)  learn new information

Step 2)  pick out an area of deficiency – pick out a place to make improvement

Step 3)  tackle this problem

Step 4)  then, after getting better, learn another round of new information – and repeat process.

(Yes, it sounds like a truncated version of Benjamin Franklin’s approach.  He sought to build his life around thirteen virtues, and worked on one, and only one, each week.)

And I’m a big fan of using books to provide direction along this path.

That’s why I read books, including business books.

Let’s add Listening to our list of Core Competencies

I had a professor way back in my undergraduate days say this:

“if one expert says something, pay it some attention.  But if every expert says it, pay a whole lot of attention.”

Well, I challenge you to find a single expert who says this:

“you don’t have to listen – to your colleagues, or your employees, or your customers.”

No, the evidence is clear.  I’ve read enough business books to learn that business leaders, business authors, and everyone else believes that listening – developing really, really good listening skills – is seriously important.  Here’s what Roger Martin says about it (in one specific context):

What is the best way to learn another language? (He is discussing the language of reliability and the language of validity in a business setting). It is to spend time with those who speak the language you wish to acquire, in their environment.  Just listen, as if it is truly important and with empathy, and you will learn the language in no time.

Though I have not found listening listed on anyone’s list of core competencies, I think it should be added.  And if you have not developed the ability to listen really, really well, you will definitely fall behind.

And here is a little hint about good listening skills:  when someone else is talking, do not try to figure out what your response will be — just listen.  And after that other person finishes talking, make sure you understood exactly what that person said.  And then, and only then, should you figure out what you will say in response.

And, yes, I need to more fully develop this ability myself.