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Remember, It’s Just a Tool

| On 27, Aug 2007

Cass PursellSometimes in our enthusiasm for a program we can lose perspective on why the program is important. I’ve seen it time and again in organizations seeking to gain ISO certification or those adopting Six Sigma principles. The point of the programs is often lost in the rush to implement. ISO, for example, is principally a program designed to ensure all of our corporate ducks are in a row: can you articulate what you are trying to do? Can you actually do what it is you have articulated? Can you demonstrate that you are doing it? Pretty straightforward and foundational ideas that, if they are embraced in principle will make the organization stronger. In a similar vein, the point of Six Sigma programs is not the completion of a certain number of DMAIC-style projects per year, but the use of Six Sigma methodology to reduce defects and drive bottom-line savings. I’ve worked with enough ex-GE employees to know that when too much focus is placed on the program, the organization can lose focus on the desired outputs that the program was implemented to produce.

These are lessons we would do well to keep in mind as we encourage our own organizations to adopt innovation programs. Scott Berkun is the author of The Myths of Innovation, and in a recent interview he made a similar argument. He said that the best approach to driving a culture of innovation is to avoid concentrating on innovation altogether. He argues that innovation is an inevitable end product of a creative problem-solving culture, so the best approach is to focus on solving problems. Do that, he says, and your organization will be plenty innovative without ever having to say the word.

Berkun makes what I see as a very important distinction between the tool kit and the desired result. In all improvement programs, from ISO to Six Sigma to Innovation, we need to be mindful not to elevate the tool kit to a status that equals or even surpasses the importance of the results.