Saturday, March 22, 2008

Incremental Vs Breakthorough Thinking

It's just amazing how some groups are driven by incremental improvements when there is enough capacity and opportunity for breakthrough thinking!

For those of you still confused, let me explain.

In personal life and in business, constantly we are confronted with challenges. Increased targets, raising the the bar continuously. Day by day due to all sorts of productivity requirements we constantly work on this aspect. Except for those who fail, others somehow hit the required targets thereby ensuring continuous growth. Now that's good compared to most who fail to "hit" the numbers anyway.

BUT, those who achieve incremental improvements tend to be very comfortable with what they achieve. The incremental syndrome can be very alarming for individuals and companies and in general for society at large. It's a question of what is possible? The actual potential. After all it is those breakthrough ideas which become runaway winners which brings in more money to the companies and greater rewards and satisfaction to the individual better way of life for people in general.

In technical terms it requires paradigm shift in thinking. You need to change the rules of the game. Same playing field with same rules give same results. Those who play the game in a different ground will achieve breakthrough thinking.

What are the symptoms.

- Companies and people need to sit back and should take a stock of the situation when they achieve numbers or goals/objectives year on year when the bar is raised. (On periodic basis and not necessarily YOY). Whilst it might be a great thing that they do hit their numbers, it should bother them that they're setting for a particular pattern.

- Alternatively in process improvements and business improvement exercises we tend to focus on incremental improvements. We must be conscious that while we are going on incremental basis, some competitor somewhere must be working on a breakthrough idea. They just might change the landscape of the whole ball game after all. Music players were improved by many on incremental basis until Apple came up with the iMac.
- When you are on a role with incremental mentality there is a great momentum built around it. Leaders must be conscious about this fact. The momentum tend to crush any kind of questioning on what has been already successful. (Even though such questioning might lead to incremental breakthroughs!).
- Some of the typical silent voices will never be heard! The leadership in the group should make a conscious effort to get people to listen to others. It's very tough when you are doing something right. Almost all the time we do have time bound pressure looming large to meet the deadlines.
I have seen enough and more groups who does this in test scenarios and in real lives. Some of them become super efficient at incremental improvements they simply refuse to accept the fact that there might be another option which exist!
So next time a around when you continuously "hit" your numbers, pause for a while and think, "Is there a breakthrough option available?"

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