We tend to think only a select few are geniuses and that innovation and creativity are qualities of extraordinary individuals, not the masses. If technological innovation is the key to competitive advantage and industry leadership in today’s frenetic market, then according to this view, the commercial fate of a company lies in the hands of just a few individuals, a few brilliant entrepreneurs who hold the key to our future.
Given the complex reality of the 21st century, lean organizations that depend on the qualities of rare individuals will face multi-dimensional risks: difficulty integrating the wisdom of the individual into the group’s purpose; limiting and sometimes closing off space for group thinking; suppression of motivation and cooperation among those who are not members of the closed “genius club”; and sacrificing the impetus for change and innovation that can be found, as James Surowiecki tells us, in the “wisdom of the crowds.”
This wisdom crosses the boundaries of culture and technology, breaks through the boundaries of policy, politics and gender, and is greater than the ability and talent of any particular one individual. What does this have to do with lean product and process development? More than ever, product and process development requires a team effort.
In a competitive global market, the role of the trailblazing individual is necessary, but it is not sufficient to complete a full product development cycle (Design, Build, Test, Learn, Adjust). Lean product development requires the integration of individual capabilities with the activities of the multi-disciplinary team. Managers face complex challenges: Is it possible to synchronize individual creativity with collective purpose? Can team activity make room for individual creative freedom? What will a group that operates as an open democracy of individualistic leaders look like? This is exactly where standard (systematic, regulated) managerial methodology fits in.
Innovation and standardized work? For maverick innovators this sounds like an oxymoron. But actually, group innovation in the service of organizational purpose is the result of the integration of numerous forces: shared information and knowledge, accumulation of collective experience, and organizational learning that is open to all. The point of standardized work is to build support a system that is focused on Purpose (creating value for the customer) that is of a much higher quality than its separate components. Such a system provides a framework and language for the task and makes it possible to combine forces, organize abilities, and share knowledge in order to build an effective organizational orchestra.
A lean organization is managed according to the principles of standardized, systematic work in order to focus the collective innovative and creative forces to achieving the purpose of the organization. Modern managers who are experienced in the lean managerial view will create frameworks for work that bring out the best of the wisdom of the crowd. This will change not only organizational activities, but also the rules of the traditional “political game,” because organizational knowledge will be generated within the group and belong to its members. This knowledge will be accessible to anyone who needs it (to solve the problem with which he/she is trying to cope), not intended for sole use of the individual who created it in order to fortify his political status.
The creation of a systematic framework for work does not contradict innovation or block creativity and initiative; it can enrich the collective discourse and enable the product development team to benefit from a variety of voices, to take advantage of the professional and cultural mosaic. We must cross the road towards a prosperous future together, not alone.