Probably everybody knows that story about a guy who meets three builders on their lunch break. “What are you doing today?” he asks the first. “I’m putting brick after sodding brick on top of another,” complains the first. “What are you doing today?” he asks the second. “I’m building a wall,” replies the second. But the third builder instead replies: “I’m building a cathedral!”
Clearly, the encouragement between the lines is that you really need to get out of the so-called “Doorway Effect” and that a process as well as an action needs to be thought of at multiple levels if it has to be successful.
So that means that the first two builders were wrong? We can answer by saying that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”: if you don’t start putting (efficiently) a brick on top of another there will be no cathedral at all.
As strange as it may sound, in the real world the same person can’t exist in two times and places, but firm can
If you look at the big picture, suddenly the cathedral will appear in your eyes. Then probably you’ll be inclined to concentrate with the following things:
–benchmarking: how the other cathedrals were built? How do they look like? Which is the most beautiful?
–innovation: what’s next? Real innovation means projecting a new cathedral or instead thinking about a breakthrough building something completely different of even more ambitious?
If instead you are one of the first two builders, welcome in a completely different world. Welcome in the world of incremental innovation. In such a case innovation is about:
–benchmarking: mostly an internal matter. Who’s the most efficient builder? Who, between the subjects performing task similar/equal to mine, is adopting an approach that can be transformed into a best practice?
–improving the process: how can I put a brick on top of another quicker (and better) than ever before? Can I think of adopting some slightly different material? Can I reduce errors/waste?
–innovation: mostly incremental. The most widespread kind of innovation. It means an innovation that concerns an existing product, service, process, organization or method whose performance has been significantly enhanced or upgraded.
Here is the point. In your organization you need to frame both things: both the brick and the cathedral. Looking for disruption will be an healthy and wonderful bet on a different future, but in the end every great innovation will become routine and incremental innovation is the only thing that will allow your firm to stay ahead in business. And this matters for every firm and business environment, not just for low-wage countries or ow- and medium-technology industries or mature firms.
Yes, because incremental innovation is important, being largely the dominant form of innovation.
In facts, blue ocean is some kind of unicorn. Rounded on the side of caution 90% of innovations is like that: a small continuous process where innovation is always in the next brick, or wall. In facts, buliding a new cathedral can be challenging, being disruptive can be fashionable and sound positively ambitious too, but at the other side its a very complex process, rather than a discrete event, and generally implies a sophisticated and risky process
And so what?
There are anyway some typical warnings to be taken into account:
–Is your firm sensitive to incremental innovation? This is strictly related to giving the chance to your team to exchange their experience, concentrate on product/service specification, register/formalize those small improvements
–Does your firm reward incremental innovation? This not just about providing training and know how but also being ready to timely transform a series of positive experiences and practices into best practices, and into a continual advance in change management process,
-does your firm look for innovation hidden in (apparently) daily /routine processes and practices?
–How is R&D managed inside your company? What about its objectives and priorities?
That will be a useful exercise: from time to time, asking your team about the way they see their job. Are they taking the brick/wall or cathedral side?