A systems view of innovation…

I was reading something yesterday about innovation that I found interesting. First off a variable definition of innovation exists today. Some people see and consider innovation finding a new way to do something. Other’s find the definition to be a better way to do things.

Qualitative solutions are of course harder because you have to define clearly what better is. That means you have to study what didn’t work carefully to determine what in the end makes it better. You have to take a systems view of what you are considering. Speeding up one part of a solution isn’t always the answer. Say for example you are going to improve the soft serve ice cream business.

Developing a nozzle that can triple the output of soft serve does solve the problem of people waiting in line. If you don’t however increase the ability of the freezer to turn the liquid into the soft serve by the same amount you speed up the delivery system in the end you get… Well frankly you get something that isn’t soft serve

So innovating the speed of soft serve delivery when taken in a systems view would include speeding up how fast you freeze the original liquid mix. Then you can speed up how fast you deliver the soft server and take care of the problem “long line.” Now the other consideration of course is the reality of the time taken for people to order and pay for the soft serve but that would involve improving another system by adding the Apple Pay ability. Perhaps to speed up the entire process you create a kiosk and place it 100 feet away from your serving window. People order and pay at the kiosk. They then walk to window and get their much improved frozen treat.

To continue the original theme innovation is also a new way of doing things. Perhaps one of the greatest innovations in medical history was a systems view of a problem and a new way to do things. Years ago women would die at a very high rate in hospitals when having babies. A much higher rate in the end than when the baby was delivered by a midwife. One of the administrators of the hospital in Vienna Austria looked at the end to end process doctors were doing and realized what was wrong. Doctors would go straight from the morgue cutting up dead bodies to learn to the delivery room. By getting the doctors to stop and wash their hands as they left the morgue the mortality rate of woman dropped through the floor. A great example of innovation by doing things in a new way.

So in the end both definitions are right. You can also mix and match the two modalities. New ways of doing things differently. As long as you take a systems view of the process to be innovated. That in the end becomes the best possible alignment of what can be done with what should be done.

Then you just have to make it happen.


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow?