Personal changes to get... where?

I just returned from a group discussion around the ideas from Deep Economy by Bill McKibben. One of the first thoughts when I read the book was a sense of panic: oh my, the world infrastructure around energy, food, and life style (my life style) is crashing down and we are in deep doo-doo.

Certainly not true that everything is crashing down today, but Bill does provide thoughts on what is occurring and saying that if you don't do something, things will get bad for humans.

Another thought I keep having was, ok, I believe most of what Bill write, but what can I do about it (energy, health, food, life style, etc.)? And if I do anything what will actually change?

Energy: If I change cars it will actually cost me money. Buying a Toyota Prius might make me feel somewhat better about the "environment" but it will hurt me in dollars because of the expense of selling cars that are paid for and work fine for a car that is perceived to be energy freindly. But I do wish for something (and would pay for) that would know when I was in a room and when I was not, with lights turning off / on automatically. An how can I tap the extreme solar energy in my car when it sits outside?

Food/health: We (my family) made a change there, mainly for health reasons. Several years ago we switched from standard fare of spaghetti pie and heavy cheese oriented foods to things in the Joslin Diabetes cook book and looking for foods at stores and local markets that fit the habit change. We are not doing this out of concern for the environment, Earth, or the farmer's well being, but for our own.

Life style: Humm, a hard one to figure out. I did stop buying books, but due to home space restrictions, not out of some need to stop buying stuff. I go to the local library more often, which provides a sense of connection to the area. I cringe at Christmas time and wish to issue a general statement to all that I wish them a happy holiday and don't buy me any stuff (can you recall what you got last year from your mother in law?).

The group discussion was great for its different perspectives. But I still need some thoughts on taking action. So here is a challenge:
  • Don't buy "stuff" for a whole month. "Stuff" means the doodad at the hardware store, the kids toys that get used once, the random Target purchase that you really don't need.
  • Walk to the library. Ok, could be a difficult thing to do. So walk somewhere farther than your car.
  • Drink more water.
  • Do less lawn work (I'm all for that).
  • Don't throw that dead battery away, recycle it.
  • Talk to your neighbors more than once a month.
How does this relate to innovation? When you think about the products your company creates ask if it contributes to some of the issues brought up in Deep Economy. Do you make doodads? Are there ways to turn the issues of energy consumption into ideas that reduce energy and provide value? Think of the issues as boundaries you don't want to cross and opportunities you want to build upon.

Another way to look at these Deep Economy issues is to utilize the issues in an assumption challenge setting. Here is an example: Challenge the assumption around the need to design and create products and services just to grow your company (Sell Sell Sell/Buy Buy Buy). What if you took out your company growth assumptions and were able to concentrate on designing products or services that helped address the "buy less" desires of your customers? Sounds odd, wanting your customers to buy less from you. But think about the desires of the customer? If you can meet those desires and make a really personal connection to your customers then you will gain value in non-monetary ways.

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Six Sigma and IDEO

In 2005 I had the fun time of listening to Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO) and Tom Kelley (Art of Innovation and IDEO) at Eli Lilly and Company (Lilly was a customer of IDEO). Before the start of the talk I took the chance to ask Tim this question: How do innovation and 6 sigma coexist?

His rule of thumb:

When he is approached by a company that has just started a 6 sigma process, he tells them to come back in about 18 months. He said 6 sigma, mainly, is about efficiencies, and that it takes about 18 months for the 6 sigma programs on those efficiencies to get through the system. Then the company is ready for that next level of tapping the innovation mind set. This is, assuming, that the 6 sigma processes are well absorbed and that it was not a flavor of the month/"one shot" program.

I found this interesting at the time because of the six sigma activities Lilly had just started, and I wondering what my role within a disruptive innovation group (eLilly or e.Lilly) might turn into.

Tim's rule of thumb is interesting today because of the cover story about 3M in Business Week: "At 3M, A Struggle Between Efficiency And Creativity". In short, 3M took on in a big way six sigma when James McNerney, a former GE executive, became the CEO of 3M. Early on the outside world rewarded this with higher stock price and certainly internally with large cost savings. However, the six sigma activity, according to the article, also changed the 3M culture (one of mythology!) to the point that the innovation took second place to efficiency and process.

"In some cases in the lab it [six sigma] made sense, but in other cases, people were going around dreaming up green-belt programs to fill their quota of green-belt programs for that time period. We were letting, I think, the process get in the way of doing the actual invention." said Dr. Larry Wendling, a 3M vice-president who directs the "R" in 3M's R&D operation.

So can innovation and process improvements co-exist? I think so, if the groups practicing six sigma and innovation are well defined and understand that application of six sigma or innovation tools must not be applied globally and equally.

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This week quick hits on innovation

I am working on some "social networks" projects and "viral" like projects. I quoted these words because what I am really working on is getting people together around a specific idea/product and keeping them engaged over time. Some of what I am working on is old fashioned marketing and PR linked with newer tools to spread the word quicker and get some sense of how the word spreads.

Check out Forward Track & HBR Idea Cast podast w/ Duncan Watts about viral marketing.

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