The Quality and Innovation Attitude
Ryan Adams (@RyanSAdams; Blog) tweeted about another blog post this morning entitled “Looking for Yes” by Seth Godin. Ryan suggested that perhaps this is the reason, as described by Godin, that Obama got elected:
I don’t think it should matter whether or not you’re trying to make a profit. If you’re out to provide a service, or organized to deliver a product, then look for a yes. At every interaction.
Salesmen know to look for a small yes, and then pursue it aggressively to get a big yes. Kids know that to get a yes from a parent, a good strategy can be to find a similar situation that will get a yes, and then to make the comparison. Kids and salesmen want that yes to happen, so they’re willing to work on it – and think about what they want from as many different angles as it will take to win over the other party! This is the ultimate mode of “thinking out of the box” because it is so genuinely motivated by a person’s desire to accomplish something. So why is it so easy to revert to an objectionist attitude, particularly in the workplace?
I hear these kinds of phrases daily: “That will never work.” “It’s too complicated.” “People don’t want that.” “It can’t be done.” “It works the way we do it now, so why change it?” How will you know it doesn’t work unless you try? The naysayers may be right – that something can’t be done – but they’re missing the underlying dynamic. It can’t be done under the same assumptions that we’re using today. You have to change your assumptions to see new ways of doing things. You have to explore your rationale for doing those things in the first place.
Prahalad’s Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid presents some striking stories of finding innovation by applying this attitude. I strongly encourage everyone to read his Strategy+Business article from 2002. The intro the the article is revealing, and hopefully enough to get you interested in how this “looking for yes” attitude can help you in your work:
Low-income markets present a prodigious opportunity for the world’s wealthiest companies – to seek their fortunes and bring prosperity to the aspiring poor.
This vision requires challenging deeply rooted assumptions in culture and in business, and aggressively seeking ways to make impossible product development cases work. “Looking for yes” is a productive attitude in general, and particularly if you are working on quality improvement or increasing innovation. Who finds opportunities? The people who have open minds, and either actively look for the opportunities, or are open to those opportunities coming their way. Who doesn’t find opportunities? Anyone who doesn’t look.
(Side note: now that my senses have been “turned on” to discrete event simulation, I’m seeing it all over the place – even in books on my own bookshelf. Why didn’t I ever notice that before?)
I have often felt that such objections in business settings have required me to formulate arguments and research matters on behalf of those who are objecting. This is fine – sometimes – however I can’t help feeling a little twinge of resentment toward a “learned helplessness” when I bend over backwards to educate and research something for someone beyond that which has already been presented (assuming it is substantive, well crafted, etc.) just for to satisfy their own reluctance to change or learn something new. However, I am happy to point out that many of the initiatives I have worked on would never move forward if I didn’t indulge this sort of thing – even when I don’t feel like it. After all, if I don’t – who will? It’s just how things get moved off the 50 yard line sometimes, distasteful though it may be.