Dollars and Sense: Company leaders must drive innovation

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 3, 2007

In last week&8217;s article, I wrote about how Toyota Motor Company has turned innovation into a significant competitive advantage. This week, let&8217;s continue to learn about innovation, Toyota style.

Attitude is huge to innovation. Toyota has a philosophy that good enough never is.

The entire organization permeates an attitude that keeps their focus continually on getting better. This doesn&8217;t mean just achieving a few huge, headline grabbing innovations. It means constantly innovating and improving things, in both small and large increments.

Innovation is truly valued at Toyota. Does leadership in your organization really value, encourage and promote innovation?

In his book, The Elegant Solution, author Matthew May explains a process that Toyota uses to help people learn how to think. It&8217;s called the Ohno circle (named for one of Toyota&8217;s engineering pioneers, Taiichi Ohno).

Ohno would draw a circle on the floor in a strategic area of a plant and instruct an employee to stand in the circle all day and observe the work process.

He wanted the person standing in the circle to constantly be asking &8220;why&8221; as they observed. The whole concept teaches people to really think about what they are seeing and helps to build a real understanding of the process.

In American culture, we usually seek the quickest solutions to problems without considering the problem in-depth.

In general, we are not a culture that places a premium on the value of thinking. How many of us would have the patience to stand in an Ohno circle and observe a process for even four hours?

Thinking is critical to promoting innovation. Yet most of the time, we are so busy doing that we spend little or no time really thinking about things.

Does leadership in our organization reward and recognize real innovation or are we more likely to recognize and reward the &8220;quick fix.&8221;

So how did you answer the questions? To drive innovation leaders must support &8220;real&8221; thinking while demonstrating through their own behavior that innovation is both important and valued.