Sunday, January 2, 2011

Process and Innovation

Last night I was talking with Shiree about work and a quote popped off my lips that was particularly quoteworthy.  So much so that I wonder if I've accidentally plagiarized it.
Process doesn't make a lightbulb.  It makes 10 million lightbulbs.
At work yesterday I was in a meeting an a colleague was lamenting how he spends time trying to have a well ordered plan and then it just gets messed up by things like Thanksgiving, or delays from other folks.  I quipped something like "maybe we don't need the process."  Another colleague replied "so we should have anarchy instead?"  The comment pissed me off so I sparred back with "you process people.  It's so black and white; process or ANARCHY."  It's not that black and white.

I suppose almost any orderly pursuit can be labeled as a process.  Thomas Edison tried 1000s of different things before find the one that worked to make his lightbulb.  He kept journals, ran experiments, recorded results, and tried out new ideas methodically; all in service of finding the solution.  He was deeply engaged in process (the scientific method for one), but it wasn't a process that existed to make 10 million lightbulbs.  It was a process that existed to make ONE.

It's not that I don't like process or that I think it's unnecessary.  Rather, it's that certain processes create lightbulbs and certain processes create 10 million of them.  I want to work in a process aimed at creating ONE lightbulb (metaphorically... the first X) not the process that creates more of them more efficiently.  It seems to me that some of the things that are being implemented at work are the controls and metrics around making more lightbulbs not making the first lightbulb.

I wonder if Edison set schedules/deadlines/etc. for his inventions? Did he measure his progress?

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