Some people think that continuous improvement or lean conflicts with innovation. In other words, that lean kills innovation. However, that is not true both go hand in hand. Let’s see how.
The power of innovation within continuous improvement
One critic about continuous improvement that I heard often is that the structure does not allow creativity. CI indeed organizes the thinking process and has some core elements that are not negotiable. On the other hand, it promotes skills development as a way to show respect. And it is there where the innovation power of lean or continuous improvement resides.
How it works
To be able to empower your team, you need to develop the skills they need. Hand-on training to learn the tools is not enough to succeed. Self-discipline to behave and think the continuous improvement way is critical. The structure provided by tools like PDCA and 5S helps to build that discipline.
For example, the traditional way to solve problems is by using past experiences to guess the best solution. But with PDCA, you have to define the problem by going where the problem happens to see for yourself, ask questions, and gather data. It also uses promotes a team approach. Various minds working together enriches both the problem definition and countermeasures identification.
The most important lesson of PDCA occurs at the end of the process. During the last step, act or adapt, you verify if the actions taken solved the problem. It also encourages you to reflect upon the results, what work, and what didn’t. The discussion of the lessons learned opens the gates of innovation by opening minds to endless opportunities.
Reflection generates learning by making us look at our actions and their consequences. Doing this requires looking at assumptions and reactions while examining the lessons learned. The act of reflecting upon our actions also help to develop creative thinking skills.
Once your mind starts to question how things work or how you can do it better, you will keep looking for answers. Curiosity is the source of invention. Being curious about things keeps your mind sharp on what happens or not. Being curious opens your eyes to new ideas.
Engagement and innovation
Boredom is a leading indicator of engagement. Doing the same thing every day is boring. And boredom kills engagement and consequently innovation. They have time to think about how much they don’t like their work and start looking for a new one. On the other hand, if they feel that their skills are valued and can visualize themselves growing with the company, their engagement increases.
One tenet of continuous improvement is to respect the people. One way to show respect is to provide the environment and opportunities to learn new skills. Being able to contribute to the company’s future in a meaningful way is a great motivator. It will not only improve their work performance but also their attitude towards life. A team member that finishes the workday feeling good about it will arrive home with much better humor. Therefore, family time will be as rewarding and positive as it should be.
A mind free of work concerns and frustration is a mind ready to create and innovate!
CI does not restrict thinking. On the contrary, it provides a way to standardize routine tasks, allowing time and energy to use their talents and creativity. When they have the power to change and improve their workplace, they will engage in finding ways to improve. With self-discipline, they will pursue daily small improvement steps. With each step, their curiosity will grow. And with it, the appetite for asking why and getting answers with data will grow as well. As a result, they will have breakthrough ideas, new concepts, and ways to do things. Curiosity is the source of invention. It is not a matter of whether innovation will happen, but when.