Friday, April 27, 2007

Innovation Should Be Elegant

The Elegant Solution is what Mathew May says companies should be after when they innovate based on his work over a 10 year period with Toyota. Simple is better. Elegant is best. There is an excellent executive summary of this book on ‘Change This’, if you want to get the key concepts, but I have summarized some of the items I felt where most influential. Also having worked at Toyota myself, I can attest to the forward thinking nature of this amazing company.

According to May, the elegant solution is one in which the optimal outcome is achieved with minimal expenditure of effort and expense. It is about value, not gadgetry, and it is about not losing site of the why behind the what.

Some other key thoughts to consider about elegant solutions:

  • People don’t want products and services. They want solutions to problems.
  • Elegant solutions embrace an overarching philosophy of doing far more with much less
  • An elegant solution is recognized by its juxtaposition of simplicity and power.
Toyota has 3 primary principals of innovation that drive toward elegant solutions:

Ingenuity in craft: Ingenuity means free thinker. Companies don’t innovate, people do. How have you changed the way you work in the past week?
Pursuit of Perfection: The pursuit of perfection is not focused on achieving perfection, its focused on chasing it. Imperfection drives innovation.
Fit with Society: “Great innovation is great in large part because of context. Context separates invention from innovation. Context is like the frame in art. If the canvas doesn’t fit the frame, the whole thing doesn’t quite work well."

10 Ways identified to put these principals into practice

  1. Let Learning Lead: To what degree is experimentation built into your core work processes?
  2. Learn to See: How well do you understand the problems your customers face?
  3. Design for today: Focus on clear and present needs. If your idea became a reality today, how well would it do?
  4. Think in pictures: What opportunities exist to use images and visual references?
  5. Capture the intangible: How do you connect emotionally with your customers?
  6. Leverage the limits: Innovation demands exploiting limits. Which goals will stimulate new thinking?
  7. Master the Tension: How can you generate creative tension?
  8. Run the Numbers: What patterns can be investigated to challenge convention?
  9. Make Kaisen Mandatory: Continuous improvement always. How do you sustain a steady flow of ideas?
  10. Keep it Lean: Complexity destroys value. What elements of complexity would you customers love for you to remove?

If you find this interesting, I encourage you to read the manifesto and or buy the book to look for applications in your organization.

No comments: