Five percent here, three percent there. I’m tired as hell of continuous improvement. Sure there’s a place for it, but it shouldn’t be the only type of work we do. But, unfortunately, that’s just what’s happened in manufacturing. To secure the balance sheet, the pendulum swung too far toward continuous improvement. Just look at what we’re writing about – the next low cost country, shorter lead times, how to be profitable where there’s no profit to be had. Those topics scream continuous improvement – take nickels and dimes out of processes to increase profits. But there’s a dark side to all this focus on continuous improvement. It has created a big problem: it has come at the expense of discontinuous improvement.
Continuous improvement is a philosophy of minimization with a focus on cost and waste reduction, while discontinuous improvement is a philosophy of maximization with a focus on creation of new markets through product innovation. As of late, we’ve minimized waste at the expense of invention and innovation. I propose we flip this on its head and maximize through discontinuous improvement at the expense of continuous improvement. That’s right; I said do less lean and Six Sigma.
But we must ask ourselves if we’re capable of doing discontinuous improvement. Remember, we ignored or dismantled our innovation engines over the last years. And what about our big thinkers, our creative thinkers, our innovators? Do they still work for us, or have they just stopped talking about big ideas? I urge you to answer that question because your next actions depend on it.
If your innovative thinkers are gone, go out and hire the best you can find ASAP. If you were fortunate enough to retain your big thinkers, congratulations. Now it’s time to get the band back together, but first you’ve got to do some reconnaissance to ferret them out of their hiding places. Once you find them, invite them to a nice lunch – the nicer the better. Don’t push too hard at lunch, just start to get reacquainted. In time you’ll get to talk about their ideas on new technologies and how to create new markets.
It will be difficult to get your company swing the pendulum away from continuous improvement, but you must try. Without discontinuous improvement your company will be destined to wrestle for nickels using lean and Six Sigma.
Dr. Mike Shipulski (certfied TRIZ practioner) brings together the best of TRIZ, Axiomatic Design, Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (2006 DFMA Contributer of the Year), and lean to develop new products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.