To nurture innovation, focus on what went right

Corporations have antibodies that attempt to kill innovation. Six Sigma for example can take defects out, but it can be counter to the very culture that innovators seek. Companies need to protect ideas and insulate them from too many metrics early in the innovation cycle. Recognizing the difference between measurement and corporate self-assessment is important.

Design thinking vs. analytical thinking can help. Analytical thinking, which most of us were taught in school focuses on “why not?” It helps to disprove ideas as valid. (See our blog post entitled, “Preventing Corporate Antibodies from Killing Innovation and a related video from the Wall Street Journal).

Below is a blog post from our advisor, Paul Sloane:

In looking for improvements and innovations we tend to focus our attention on what went wrong. We try to fix problems. A typical management meeting consists of a group of people who are looking at what is not working and trying their hardest to come up with ways to put things right. But in the process they are often allocating blame, arguing, becoming negative and getting frustrated.

Most managers ask these kinds of questions:

  • Why are sales down?
  • What is holding up production?
  • What can we do about customer complaints?
  • What can I do about difficult staff?
  • What is wrong with the current process?
  • Where can we speed things up?
  • How can we stop all these problems?

These are good questions, problems which must be addressed. However, by focussing our attention on the negative we miss the innovation opportunities presented by the positive.

  • We should also spend some time asking questions like these:
  • What are our key strengths?
  • What do customers like about us?
  • What is going well?
  • What unexpectedly good things have happened here recently?
  • What new customers have we won?In what ways have we delighted customers?
  • What is it that only we can do?

How Cat roared into the branded items business

Caterpillar was a well-established leader in heavy earth-moving equipment. Then in 1996 they started selling a sideline, “Cat” branded work boots. These were unexpectedly successful with young consumers who would never use or buy heavy Caterpillar machinery. By 2000 they were selling over 25 million pairs of boots. They have now branched out into other kinds of clothing and toys to exploit the Cat brand.By focusing on our strengths and capabilities we can see positive opportunities. If we concentrate on fixing the current model then we can easily miss new possibilities.

All our energies are going into alleviating problems and weaknesses – this denies us the chance to create new initiatives.It is the same with people. When we are toddlers everyone praises us and tells us how wonderful all the things we do are. Then as we go through the school process things change and the emphasis switches, the errors in our work are pointed out and teachers tell us all the things we could better.

This is well meant but the impact on fragile egos can be severe.When we get to work we are at first acutely aware of our lack of experience and authority. At our annual appraisal we are told the things we need to focus on to improve. We plan training and coaching to improve our weak areas. Our strengths are taken for granted and development focuses on our weaknesses in order to make us “well rounded.”But surely the key to success is to build on our strengths and to compensate for weaknesses. If we have a good voice but can’t dance then why try to become an all-rounder?

Surely it is better to scrap the dancing lessons and put all our efforts into becoming a great singer.In business we have to figure out what the true assets of the business are – what are our core strengths and abilities? What can we excel at? If we are great at marketing but lousy at administration then we should probably stop spending time and energy trying to get our administrative systems fixed. Outsource it to someone who is good at that and let’s concentrate on playing the game we are good at – marketing.

In addition to fixing what is wrong we should spend time examining what is right. Look for success stories, talk to delighted customers, ask them what makes us better than the others and then build on that. Find the right partners to compensate the areas where we are ordinary or weak and free up time to find creative new ways to exploit our strengths. We need to find unexpected and unusual things that we do really well because they can give us the competitive advantage we need. Let’s focus on what our organisation is really good at and build our success on that.

via Paul Sloane, head of the BQF Innovation Unit. His website is His new book, The Innovative Leader, is published by Kogan Page.

Michael F. Arrigo

Michael Arrigo, an expert witness, and healthcare executive, brings four decades of experience in the software, financial services, and healthcare industries. In 2000, Mr. Arrigo founded No World Borders, a healthcare data, regulations, and economics firm with clients in the pharmaceutical, medical device, hospital, surgical center, physician group, diagnostic imaging, genetic testing, health I.T., and health insurance markets. His expertise spans the federal health programs Medicare and Medicaid and private insurance. He advises Medicare Advantage Organizations that provide health insurance under Part C of the Medicare Act. Mr. Arrigo serves as an expert witness regarding medical coding and billing, fraud damages, and electronic health record software for the U.S. Department of Justice. He has valued well over $1 billion in medical billings in personal injury liens, malpractice, and insurance fraud cases. The U.S. Court of Appeals considered Mr. Arrigo's opinion regarding loss amounts, vacating, and remanding sentencing in a fraud case. Mr. Arrigo provides expertise in the Medicare Secondary Payer Act, Medicare LCDs, anti-trust litigation, medical intellectual property and trade secrets, HIPAA privacy, health care electronic claim data Standards, physician compensation, Anti-Kickback Statute, Stark law, the Affordable Care Act, False Claims Act, and the ARRA HITECH Act. Arrigo advises investors on merger and acquisition (M&A) diligence in the healthcare industry on transactions cumulatively valued at over $1 billion. Mr. Arrigo spent over ten years in Silicon Valley software firms in roles from Product Manager to CEO. He was product manager for a leading-edge database technology joint venture that became commercialized as Microsoft SQL Server, Vice President of Marketing for a software company when it grew from under $2 million in revenue to a $50 million acquisition by a company now merged into Cincom Systems, hired by private equity investors to serve as Vice President of Marketing for a secure email software company until its acquisition and multi $million investor exit by a company now merged into Axway Software S.A. (Euronext: AXW.PA), and CEO of one of the first cloud-based billing software companies, licensing its technology to Citrix Systems (NASDAQ: CTXS). Later, before entering the healthcare industry, he joined Fortune 500 company Fidelity National Financial (NYSE: FNF) as a Vice President, overseeing eCommerce solutions for the mortgage banking industry. While serving as a Vice President at Fortune 500 company First American Financial (NYSE: FAF), he oversaw eCommerce and regulatory compliance technology initiatives for the top ten mortgage banks and led the Sarbanes Oxley Act Section 302 internal controls I.T. audit for the company, supporting Section 404 of the Sarbanes Oxley Act. Mr. Arrigo earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Southern California. Before that, he studied computer science, statistics, and economics at the University of California, Irvine. His post-graduate studies include biomedical ethics at Harvard Medical School, biomedical informatics at Stanford Medical School, blockchain and crypto-economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and training as a Certified Professional Medical Auditor (CPMA). Mr. Arrigo is qualified to serve as a director due to his experience in healthcare data, regulations, and economics, his leadership roles in software and financial services public companies, and his healthcare M&A diligence and public company regulatory experience. Mr. Arrigo is quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Fortune Magazine, Kaiser Health News, Consumer Affairs, National Public Radio (NPR), NBC News Houston, USA Today / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Medical Economics, Capitol ForumThe Daily Beast, the Lund Report, Inside Higher Ed, New England Psychologist, and other press and media outlets. He authored a peer-reviewed article regarding clinical documentation quality to support accurate medical coding, billing, and good patient care, published by Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) and published in Healthcare I.T. News. Mr. Arrigo serves as a member of the board of directors of a publicly traded company in the healthcare and data analytics industry, where his duties include: member, audit committee; chair, compensation committee; member, special committee.

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