Thursday, November 15, 2012

Faster horses

Ann Lovejoy
Creative Intermedia

Have you been trapped in a puzzling conversation with someone who believes that innovation is some kind of mystical event unlike real life?

The simple truth is
  • Invention or inspiration is not innovation
  • Innovation is the process that connects inventions in product, process, or services to a public (market) which finds them useful.
And, like any other process – the innovation process can be reproduced with consistent results.

Trust me on this one; using a process is how Thomas Edison’s Invention Factory brought hundreds of inventions to market. Invention Factory products were often not the best or most elegant ideas. But new products were released feasibly, reliably, timely and cost-effectively on a large-scale basis.

Henry Ford once said if he’d asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said, “Faster horses.” Cars had been invented and were in production already. The Model A was not the invention or innovation. Henry Ford’s process innovation adapted meat butchering processes – assembly lines – to building machines. The machines connected to a broader market because the assembly line enabled consistent reproduction of high value products, with an affordable price for customers.

The reproducible innovation cycle can be applied to any human endeavor – even government and society. The steps are:

  • Find the opportunity (identify and define the goals, problem, desire)
  • Connect the definition or problem statement to solutions
  • Select the solution (prioritize the possible solutions to the one most feasible, actionable, sustainable, manageable)
  • Make the solution best-fit (optimized, user friendly, flexible)
  • Bring the solution to the public (implement the solution and stabilize the change)
  • Improve continuously – adapt to changes in the environment, renew and fine-tune

The Alaskan economy is not terribly diverse. We are overly dependent on one industry – oil and gas. The key symptom or measure of this dependency is that most of the state budget comes from oil taxes. Our usual lower-tax-election-drama misses a key economic factor for growth and for sustained economic welfare of citizens. If state revenue came from a diversity of sources – we’d have alternative means to fund incentives. We’d be able to invest and participate in profit-making ventures. This model has been shown to work, for example with Norway and Statoil and in top-tier corporations.

On a philosophical level – the tax-debate is a scarcity mentality and the other stance is an abundance mentality. An abundance mentality reduces waste, increases profit and improves outcomes because knowledge and resources are freely shared.

Why shouldn’t individuals and industries contribute revenue to enable diversity of private and public investment? Diversified revenue generation and investment works best when individuals and industries receive benefits and services in return, and openly acknowledge the exchange.

High-performing corporations use transparent accounting of costs and benefits. Why shouldn’t these proven best practices and measurements be expected -- and demanded -- of our other human institutions?

Not acknowledging the exchange means we don’t measure and hold the right people accountable for results that demonstrate value. What gets measured, gets done. I don’t know about you – I personally like riding horses . However, there are better ways to transport Alaska into the future.

Ann L. Lovejoy is performance consultant who helps organizations be better to do better. She is experienced in operations management, project management, process design and control, measurement systems design for high performance, workforce and leadership talent development, and transformational change. Ann L. Lovejoy lives in Anchorage and may be reached at