Ideas in the Organization

Scott has a great article at here where he talks about Toyota’s chief engineer.  I would like to focus on a small portion of one of the attributes of a chief engineer.

Innovative yet skeptical of unproven technology.

This is important because it communicates two things. The first is that he tests unproven technologies exhaustively before allowing them into the organization.  The second (and the one I want to focus on) is that he is innovative.  This implies that ideas are thought up and either implemented or discarded.  But where do these ideas come from?  I would say that these ideas come from two places, the bottom and the top.

The bottom has to be willing to bring new ideas or revisit old ideas with a shiny new exterior. And it cannot be just a few. Everyone needs to have ideas. Ideas are the things that make people better. And when the people are better, organizations are better. People without ideas cost the organization because they don’t ever progress to a level of higher understanding and subsequently aren’t able to understand something new. People with ideas tend to be more open to other ideas because they are able to see the bigger picture. Both of these problems stifle adoption and change and ultimately it will cost the organization financially by aggregating the "technical debt" that the company must climb out of.

Conversely, ideas have to come from the top. If no ideas come out of the top, then it precludes people at the bottom from announcing ideas. Even when ideas are "welcome," if nothing ever happens, people will stop having ideas. However, the top is where bad ideas get thrown out and good ideas get adopted.

In summary, the worst thing that can happen is an organization without ideas. The second worst thing that can happen is an organization with lots of ideas and very little adoption.


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