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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Learning is the Secret of Innovation (and Lean)

A growing number of organizations are embracing lean principles. The lean practitioner is responsible for satisfying demand in ever more productive ways by reducing waste along the value chain. Organizations that succeed with lean realize compelling economic benefits and competitive advantage. Reducing waste equates to reducing costs in ways that allow them to maintain and increase customer satisfaction.

However, lean works to the extent that people in the organization commit to understanding the right problems to solve. Work then becomes an exercise in learning by experimentation, as the community members, including customers, engage with one another to reflect and act on those activities that provide authentic forms of value.

Innovation can be a company’s best strategic advance, especially in today’s competitive and crowded marketplace. However, for the innovation to occur, most companies have to be willing to embrace the risk of potential failure. Employees may be afraid to offer insight and new ways of doing things because the company culture doesn't support them. If you really want to empower employees, you'll need to create a company culture that encourages and rewards innovation. You may start by asking individuals to look for ways to improve efficiency, output, safety, etc. in the tasks they perform every day. Actually, this kind of an approach across the company always has to start with the tone at the top – if employees see their manager taking risks and testing new ideas, they are more likely to follow suit.

Foster innovation by challenging assumptions about what can and cannot be done. When employees come to you with an idea or a solution to a problem they believe is for the betterment of the company, it’s a sign that they care. Supporting new ideas and giving an individual the chance to ‘run with it’ is motivating, whether or not it works out in the end.

React to mistakes and failures in a way that shows that you condone risk-taking. Give your support, provide resources, and remove barriers to change. Approach problems as learning opportunities. Think twice when people agree with you; show you value independent thinking and reward people who challenge you.

As ideas cannot be shared without honest and open communication, encourage your employees to say a thing or two about company’s latest projects. Communication always takes time, so adequate time and place for discussion and meetings must be apportioned into the normal schedule.

Innovation initiatives and Lean complement one another when you consider the fundamentals they share. Progressive organizations that seek ever higher levels of productivity assign a high value to the benefits that come from creating an environment where all the members actively engage in continual reflection on and experimentation to solve problems that get in the way of satisfying demand.

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