Wrapping Up on the Feng Shui for Establishing a Culture of Innovation

[Guest Post: Paul Boos serves as the software maintenance lead for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP).  His team currently uses Kanban and Scrum to maintain the OPP legacy code base.  Prior to that he implemented Scrum as the Branch Chief for the National Development Branch within USDA/Rural Development. Follow him on twitter: @paul_boos]

This will be the conclusion of the posts on creating a culture of innovation.  While this has had some focus on applying it within the Government, the concepts are pretty general in nature.  There are characteristics to cultivate in your people, values to encourage within your teams, traits to develop in your organization, and two forms of innovation you need to be prepared to accept: Kaizen and Kaikaku.  In this segment, we’ll discuss mostly how to make the resulting innovations get merged into the organization smoothly.

Organizational Vision

To bring all of the innovations into a cohesive direction that will help and not distract the organization, one must instill a vision for that organization. This vision should be aligned to your organization’s mission.  Without this vision, innovations will vary in the direction and may go at cross-purposes.  Business author Matthew May calls this the “Goldilocks Principle”; the vision is the definition of the problem or purpose in specific but not too detailed terms.

Here’s an example: suppose you are interested in encouraging use of a new battery technology that is long-life and very powerful.  You plan to develop a grant program to develop its application.  Because of size and weight only large items could utilize this battery; anything from an 18 wheeled freight truck and bigger is required.  You could define the issue to focus replacing truck fuel usage with battery powered motors.  Such a tight definition will constrain the innovation proposals you get for the grant.  If you defined that you wanted proposals to explore using this technology in the transportation sector you could get much more innovative proposals back.

Ancient Markets?

I personally like to think of the innovations I am trying to grow as occurring within an ancient market; these markets were stalls with tents over them.  I want every tent within my city’s marketplace.  Having tents sprout up outside the walls means they aren’t a part of the city’s vision. By setting up a place inside the city for innovations to occur, I will grow them inside where they help the city flourish.  The marketplace equates to the organizational vision I set up.  To encourage them the stalls to be fulfilled, I need to develop and cultivate the people, teams, and organizational traits needed.  Occasionally, I will need a large central tent for a massive innovation that may be reinventing the organization, but more often than not, I will have sets of smaller tents. I can also co-locate tents where needed to cultivate more collaboration among the innovators themselves.

This singular, clear vision helps everyone understand how their innovations fit within the organization.

The Feng Shui for this singe vision, or the number one, is an unobstructed flow of energy or new beginnings.  Innovation definitely brings about new beginnings as the organization sheds old ideas and takes on new ones.  The organization will also begin creating a positive energy as it produces these innovations.  The innovations themselves will become more fluid in their creation and adoption; which brings us to our next point…  It is important to visualize this flow.

Two Flows

There are actually two flows that need to be continuously visualized: the flow of your innovations and the flow of products and/or services provided to your customers.

  • The first one is your innovation portfolio and represents the change your organization is undergoing.
  • The second one is your value stream.

Both need to limit the number they have in process; your organization can only handle so much change at one time and it has only so much capacity for ‘production’ before it becomes strained.  By limiting each of these, you can find a balance that makes both innovation and your value stream both effective and sustainable.  If these flows sound like a technique that Kanban would be an effective method for visualizing and enabling change within both of these, you’d be right.

Let’s put all this back together and understand the Feng Shui for all of these.

In Feng Shui the digits get added together to yield the energy, so 1 + 5 = 6.  The number 6 represents calm or patience.  By having all of these together, the organization can calmly make these transitions, if the organization is missing one, the innovations probably won’t get adopted as calmly as desired.

While we have discussed the culture fro innovating, there is one more thing to recognize.  The organization and all its levels must regularly reflect on what it can be doing better with respect to supporting the vision.  Thus you look on areas to improve in your (recent) past to generate innovations for the future.  The past and future again bring balance and choice to what the organization takes on.  It helps keep us on the path forward or tells us when a new path is needed.

Adding in retrospection to our Feng Shui yields 2 + 6 or 8; this number represents infinity, abundance, or success in our endeavors.  This is exactly where we want to be.  Now if we miss any element, we may have a difficult time in cultivating an organization to develop innovations on a regular basis.

[Thanks for taking the time to read through my series and if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them here or contact me on Twitter at @paul_boos]

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