Innovation is the ability to develop and apply ideas that are aimed to better the way things are done. Innovation improves the ability of self or an organization to compete and even be distinguishable from rest. Jim Collins found that successful companies meet a minimum threshold for innovation set by the competition. Is your company meeting that threshold?

Being innovative is a trait that has been considered as more innate and hereditary as opposed to being self taught or trained. However, this is not true as studies show that 25-40% of human innovation stems from genetics, the rest can be learned. With the rapid change across all the sectors and industries, innovation is inevitable. Are you and your company prepared?

In his interview with Matt Murray, the Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief, Elon Musk iterated that being innovative and having the ability to create innovative products is learnable. Musk highlighted three fundamental questions. These questions are synonymous to Lean Six Sigma principles. In this article, we highlight the three questions and how they correlate with principles of Lean Six Sigma.

  1. Have you tried it?

He argues one to give a trial after conceptualization. The main point here is not giving up but keep trying until you get it right. Through this, he says, the main aim is to make the product better. Not stopping at the first go. This means more research goes into understanding the product. This question is synonymous with the proactive Voice of the Customer in Lean Six Sigma.

The Voice of the Customer is about understanding the customer’s needs and requirements. The aim is to understand the outcome desired by the customer. This is achieved proactively through various means like research, benchmarking, surveys, focus groups, and interviews. In doing this, one is trying to understand the dynamics of the product better and meet the customers desired quality of the service or product. In order to do this, one must be persistent. This is what Musk refers to trying and trying even harder.

  1. How can you make it better?

On this, Musk elaborates that in order to make your product even better, seeking negative feedback is key. While this can be sought from the customers and non-customers, it is important for the business to understand how they can enhance or build upon what they have already to desirable quality of a customer. He argues that one should be able to gauge if they love the product they have created or not. If the owner of the product doesn't love it, they should not expect the customer to love it.

The reactive Voice of the Customer, just like Musk’s question on how to make a product better, seeks to help the business in defining the defects of its products through the customer’s language. This is done through customer complaints, returns and credits.

The reactive voice helps the business find out the various aspects of the product that can be improved. The criticism helps the owner have more understanding of the customer desires and level of appreciation. It helps them to eventually innovate new products in the process of improving the existing ones. This reactive data can be easily acquired through: customer calls, technical support enquiries, surveys, and product returns.

  1. Are you spending too much time in the conference room?

On this, Musk challenges innovators and business owners to spend less time in meetings and conference rooms, rather put more time and resources into the actual building of the product - the factory floor. Even moreso, he argues with them to also step out and meet the customers. Being close to the product and employees creates better engagement and more ideas into making it better.

The Gemba lean principle is similar in that owners should spend more time on the manufacturing floors or the site of the actual product in whatever industry. This brings them closer to the process and improves the engagement of the team, shows respect and brings about more understanding. One is also able to note wasteful activities and any problems within the process. Gemba brings about more innovation compared to viewing results at the office and making decisions, which are superficial without a genuine understanding of the actual process.

Being innovative is a skill that can be taught or learned. Lean Six Sigma gives you and your team the opportunity to learn how to be innovative, a skill that is in high demand. Where is your team on its journey of learning to innovate?

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