Innovation vs. Change

We’ve heard the phrase before that “change is constant.” It’s true that from one moment to the next change has occurred. Solutions for specific situations in the past cannot effectively be replicated in the now or in the future. It’s like one person put it. History (in fact) does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Change is the natural process that adjusts any system’s flow. Machine parts wear down. Bolts shake loose. One generation passes to another. Nature is waiting to take back the earth. Change is nature’s way of meeting her objectives, but what about yours? It isn’t very often that nature’s goals and an organization’s goals are the same (although they can be complimentary).

For people to make effective and meaningful system adjustments change isn’t enough. True adjustments require innovation.

Innovation is different than change. Innovation is to “make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.” By definition innovation requires new methods, ideas, or products.

Innovation is sometimes the result of one brilliant individual. Nicola Tesla’s AC generator comes to mind. Thomas Edison’s lightbulb might be on the list as well, but Edison wasn’t alone. He had a team of engineers and innovators working in his shop when the code for the successful lightbulb was finally cracked.

The inventors of Tesla’s and Edison’s day had significantly more opportunity to invent miracles than those today. Today we are surrounded by a million miracles born out of others’ innovation.

Innovation isn’t normally just one brilliant person. There’s generally a pattern to the process. It starts with an environment of trust and continuous learning. In those environments collaboration can not only occur but thrive! You know collaboration when you see it. It starts as a conversation that discusses a WHY. While most of what follows my be prototyping the what to solve a need the group’s focus on why isn’t lost as the conversation evolves.

In collaborative settings no one walks away wishing they’d spent their time elsewhere. If you’re having a meeting where folks wish they could be someone else, or they regret having spent the time in that environment, then you’re not collaborating and you’re not likely to innovate–unless of course you’ve got one brilliant mind who can do it on his own.

In our home and professional environments seeking innovations (whether small or large) is possible and knowing that innovation is born out of collaborative settings gives us a better incentive to build and maintain trust and invest the time to talk about the why.

Change vs Innovation

I’m often surprised how English assigns ownership to people instead of objects and things.  For example in German when someone is hot (temperature) they would say that they have heat.  If they were cold the phrase would literally translate to the person having cold.

In Spanish if you dropped your phone you wouldn’t say that you dropped your phone.  You would say that your phone dropped.

Since our mental narrative is in our native language those who speak English might be more culturally programmed to see how their actions impact the world around them.

Within English we do have a diversity of words and their meanings.  For example, the word change implies a difference between one state and another with the same objects/actors involved.  Innovation on the other hand implies that there needs to be a conscious choice made as to the type of change that occurs.

So, with that difference it’s worth asking, do you innovate, or do you change?  Do your teams innovate, or do they change?

Negotiating an Unscheduled Change

    Although projects may only live for a duration of time, during the time between the project’s start and the project’s finish changes may emerge.  In the scenario where a customer asks for an additional component to be added to the project there are several options.  The most common framework for dealing with this involves applying the negotiating techniques of Fisher, Ury, and Patton in their now classic book, Getting to Yes.  This book is appropriate because at the moment this new work is introduced it creates  conflict that introduces a need for negotiating.

    Principled negotiation requires separating people from the problem.  By isolating the actual areas of conflict from those who are expressing them the areas that need to be addressed can be addressed.  In the scenario listed above separating the person from the problem means reviewing the project’s scope–particularly the area that discusses the scope’s limitations.  After reviewing this I would get my customer to agree that the additional work is not within the project’s original scope, and therefore not within the project’s projected budget.

    The next phase presented in Getting to Yes is to invent options for mutual gain.  This can’t be done until both parties agree on the problem.  Here the focus is on collaboration, not compromise to create a solution that works for both the project management team and the customer.  What exactly that solution is, is beyond the scope of this conversation, but it should be created with the customer to help establish mutual by-in.

    The next principle that applies is insisting on objective criteria.  This can be done by focussing on principles instead of positions.  Principles are the goals and intents of an effort.  Positions are the results.  If both parties can agree to a set of principles first then they can use the overlapping of those principles to create objective criteria both agree upon to use when rating their solutions.

    If the negotiation fails then it’s my job to be aware of my Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement (BATNA).  Evaluating the BATNA prior to negotiation is key.  Depending on the situation within my business I may be in a position where I have to evaluate the long-term customer relationship in exchange for a short-term outcome.  

    By following these principles I believe I’d be able to effectively work through the conflict created by the request for new work.