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The Case for Structured Innovation

By Michael S. Slocum

“To think that the new economy is over is like somebody in London in 1830 saying the entire industrial revolution is over because some textile manufacturers in Manchester went broke.”
– Alvin Toffler, American writer and futurist

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
– Aristotle

Structured, systematized productivity – which has taken place over the last 100 years – can be classified as the first true wave of innovation. Today we experience world-class techniques in automation, vision systems, robotics and other technologies that reduce the art of production to a science. The work started with Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford and has continued with the current Toyota Production System (TPS) and the Lean methodology as described by James Womack in his book The Machine that Changed the World.

The degree of systematization has increased dramatically, to such an extent that we benefit from rates of production never before imagined. Our ability to produce high quality products at high rates of manufacture is no longer tied to the abilities of a human operator – and this trend of automation will continue indefinitely.

But waves come in sets.

The Second Wave: Structured Quality

Six Sigma (DMAIC and DFSS) has taken the core principles of total quality control (TQC), total quality management (TQM) and other quality methods and philosophies to the point where they have been integrated and their application has also been reduced to a science. Financial return is demanded on a project-by-project basis, and this has forced the revolution of the quality domain. The demand for discipline has yielded results that are both predictable and reproducible. This has elevated the field of quality to a level of performance that exceeds anything seen historically.

Just as important, the works of W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, Armand Feigenbaum, Walter Shewhart, Yoji Akao, Shigeru Mizuno, Shigeo Shingo, Genichi Taguchi, and many others have yielded a new system of practice that is teachable and available to be practiced by all. Coupled with advances in the field of productivity and manufacturing, the world benefits from the best products at the fastest rates of production.

Beyond The First and Second Waves

This productivity/quality duo enables us to be experts in our existing business models. We are able to do what we do the best it can be done. We are able to enjoy diminishing costs while reducing defects. These advantages allow us to compete on the market segments that we have developed and in which we participate.

But this gain only exists for the duration of the net profitability period of a given product or service. In order to benefit from our expertise, we need to be able to produce new product or service profit periods. Our skills weren’t designed for this. What needs to come next?

The case for structured innovation.

The Third Wave: Structured Innovation

We need to systematize the field of innovation. We need to add a scientific component to the art of innovation. We need to be able to produce an innovation or a series of inventions as required so we may continually reinvent our product portfolio.

This also gives us a fertile ground for the continued practice of our preservationary methods. Genrich Altshuller, Alvin Toffler, Peter Drucker, Michael Porter, Gary Hamel, Clayton Christensen, Henry Chesbrough, Jack Hipple and many others have helped define the importance of innovation.

But it’s also necessary to identify the structure that will make innovation repeatable and predictable. The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) provides the structure and algorithms necessary to do this. The Third Wave allows us to reinvent ourselves and reinvigorate our business models. This evolutionary curve, coupled with productivity and quality, gives us all we need to be agile and ambidextrous – potentially for decades to come, or at least until we’ve figured out what the wave after that looks like.

About the Author:

Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D., is the principal and chief executive officer of The Inventioneering Company. Contact Michael S. Slocum at michael (at) or visit