Created: January 1, 2010
Last Revised: April 18, 2020
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I have broken this minor "treatise" into three sections. I hope this approach isn't too pedantic.
In the first section I discuss concepts that I have learned and used, both successfully and unsuccessfully over the years to GET "invention". For this section, I define "invention" as the process of getting new solutions. So what you will see is a compilation of projects that I have been involved in with a explanation of the Key Idea that made the process work or the key MISSING ingredient.
Section two consists of references in the more formal "Invention" arena
Section three contains a mish-mash of last minute thoughts that might have fit better in some previous epistle, possibly in "Influence Management". The reason that I have included them here is that if your job includes "Getting Ideas" (not just new products). then any process improvement that YOU make along these lines really DOES qualify as one of "GETTING INVENTION".
Inventing in the Service Delivery Process
Teamwork works. Real Teams I truly believe that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The team or project leader almost always has it in their hands as to whether or not a team will "invent". The leader must always come to every meeting fully believing that the members have or can get the knowledge needed to do the job.
Improving hardware service (a microfilm reader/printer)profits by 30%
For this very successful program , we had committed team members, high spirits and a single sheet document for each proposed improvement that summarized plans, hopes and progress. The idea here was to ask the expert (the team member) to estimate, to the best of their ability, the likely gross and net savings to be had if the idea "panned out". Then the member (assisted and encouraged by the team leader) would estimate the timetable for idea development and implementation, by period of time. over the next two years by quarter. Finally, the team member was asked to estimate a)the likelihood that the project would meet it's overall savings goals and b) the likelihood that the project would complete on-time. This process allowed the team member to "dream" (which builds motivation) and then. later, as a SEPARATE exercise, add the realm of reality to produce practical values to use in obtaining resources and other commitments. This one sheet of paper was used and updated at every status meeting. Projects were added or eliminated, but the schedule and the savings could always be calculated easily. And each member (and the member's boss) knew exactly what their contribution was at any time. We improved the profitability by about $1.25 million per quarter over a 2 or 3 year period with this approach.
Improving hardware service profitability (a microfilm process camera) by 50%
Here, we had a large service commodity that had been deeply in the hole for as many years as anyone could remember. The key to digging out: Listen very carefully to the people who are affected by the process or product that you are going to address. the home office had been producing manuals and procedures from THEIR view, not that of the field. Out team visited the field and looked in manuals to see what notes and sketches the field technicians had to add in order to perform their jobs. We looked carefully into the repair processes to see if they are likely to solve problems or to create more problems.
Use these "raw" field inputs to foster ideas and creativity in the team. We even developed an advertising program to "sell" a new service manual to the field since we learned that most techs had become "soured" on the "last" new manual and on home office in general. We used "Negative Objection Analysis" to determine what obstacles would have to be overcome before the techs would invest their own time in learning who to use the new tools and new manual.
To get field service improvements, you must have a field service research budget.
Product producing companies often spend 3% to 10% (usually the hardware producing companies are on the higher side) of their forecast sales for research. How much does your field service operation spend? I don't agree that more money gets you more invention, but it is certain that no money makes invention a lot less likely.
Bringing in outside experts
You need a constant flow of new and different ideas to pollinate the minds of those who are in a position to invent. You can also go TO the experts. For product field service issues, get involved with NASM or AFSMI.
Bring in people who are truly motivated toward the teams goals in the team setting. These are people who really have an opinion about the subject at hand.
Bring in people who already have a good track record. Don't settle for a "warm body" when building a team.
Having a "Big Name" to support you. This thought almost goes without saying, but when people KNOW the big boss is behind an idea, it really helps with motivation.
Using the formal system to characterize an improvement plan. Develop a system that everyone in the organization uses to produce a "cost/benefit analysis".
Listening to the field REAL carefully. Go out a ride with a single field technician for 3 days. Analyze the process from an overall service delivery process standpoint and also from the technical product repair process standpoint.
To select which techs to ride with, separate your techs into 3 categories. Don't ride with the high performers or the low performers. Ride with the middle of the road people (about 80% of the field force). These are the techs who need to most help, because there are more of them than anybody else. When you make a process improvement, tune it up for these people to get the highest process improvement value.
The team leader must be prepared to dig in to support the troops to keep their level of interest up without overpowering them. A good sign of this to the troops is when the project leader takes on some of the grunt work so the members can do the creative work.
Taking time to make sure that people assigned to projects are personally motivated to do the thing that they are being asked to do.
Project managers must become personally involved in the projects they lead. They MUST be GOAL oriented, not task oriented.
What doesn't work and what to do about it:
Component replacement project:
This was a project aimed at replacing the one or two components on a PC board that fail most often in order to speed up repairs, reduce the number of No Part calls and cut down on field van inventory of PC boards. The idea was to locate those boards that had high failure rates that couldn't (or weren't being) improved, find the one or two or three components that usually failed, train and stock the techs on how to replace them. We'd give them only a short time to try to perform the field fix, doing EXACTLY as we wanted, no more, them to replace the whole board if that didn't work.
Anyway, to staff this project, I went to the managers of the groups from which I needed team members, explained the program and asked for manpower. So far so good. We ran the project for several months before I discovered why things weren't getting done. It all boiled down to a lack of commitment on the part of about 1/2 of the team members. In a case like this, the other 1/2 of the team suffers, as does the whole project. The reason: The managers DID give me a name, but they did NOT give that person the time to devote to the project: the managers only gave lip-service to it. That left the members with the mandate "look good and keep Pete happy, but don't fail to get the rest of your work done!".
Having too many things to do:
Some years back, my boss had saddled each of his troops with 10 or 15 projects concurrently and he finally realized that nothing was getting done. When he held status meetings, people reported minimal progress with plenty of excuses. A lot of time was being wasted just in switching mentally from project to project. Some people can work well in this environment, but most can not. He finally reduced the project load to 2 per person max. The idea of getting everyone more focused, particularly in these days of turmoil can be a good thing.
Somewhere in one of the Motorola University courses on "Administrative Process Improvement" is some research on this important concept. It has to do with the amount of time lost when switching from one task to another. A simple example is when a secretary is typing a letter, gets a phone call and then is interrupted during the phone call by one of the people she works for to answer a question. Time is lost in each of these process changes, but additional time is lost as she works back into the phone call, then back to the letter with thoughts such as "now, where was I?" or "where did that piece of paper go?". This problem exists in every job and project and needs to be accounted for.
By reducing the number of interruptions, one can gain significant productivity and improve the rate of "invention". I wonder how many good ideas have been lost forever due to an interruption at just the wrong moment.
Too Many Teams:
I believe that almost everyone in the organization should be on a cross functional process improvement team of some sort on a more or less regular basis. It is relatively easy to get process improvement teams going, and, as you know, it is also pretty easy to define a large number of projects that need doing. One time the vice president of a 1750 employee company had 50 or 60 teams going on various levels of process improvement. Some people were on as many as 5 teams. Some of them liked it that way. In many cases, the bosses complained that all that teamwork was taking away from the basic job that the person had. So we "declared" that no one had to belong to more than 2 teams. That helped a lot.
Check into the way Hewlett-Packard does things.. I think they really understand hardware and they are known widely as real innovators.
References to the Art or Science of "Invention"
The following was found on the Internet at http://hawaii.cogsci.uiuc.edu/invent/InventBib.html
I have placed a triple asterisk (***)to the left of a few of these references that seem to me to be closest to the issue at hand. See the quadruple asterisk (****) first. You will have to go to the Internet site listed for this one since the author's copyright is explicitly mentioned
Bibliography of the Psychology of Invention
Adams, J. L. (1991). Flying buttresses, entropy, and O-rings The world of an engineer.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Basalla, G. (1988). The evolution of technology. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bradshaw, G.L. (1992). The airplane and the logic of invention. In R.N. Giere (Ed.), Cognitive
models of science. Minneapolis, MN: The University of Minnesota Press.
Dasgupta, S. (1994) Creativity in invention and design Computational and cognitive
explorations of technological originality. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Friedel, R., & Israel, P. (1986). Edison's electric light Biography of an invention. New
Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.
Gorman, M.E., & Carlson, W.B. (1990). Interpreting invention as a cognitive process: The case of
Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and the telephone. Science, Technology, and Human
Values, 15, 131-164.
Klahr, D. & Dunbar, K. (1988). Dual space search during scientific reasoning. Cognitive Science,
Kulkarni, D., & Simon, H.A. (1988). The process of scientific discovery: The strategy of
experimentation. Cognitive Science, 12, 139-175.
Langley, P., Simon, H.A., Bradshaw, G.L., & Zytkow, J.M. (1987). Scientific Discovery:
Computational explorations of the creative processes. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Nilsson, N.J. (1971). Problem-solving Methods in Artificial Intelligence. New York:
Petroski, H. (1993). The evolution of useful things. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Popper, K.R. (1961). The logic of scientific discovery. New York: Science Editions.
***Simon, H.A. (1966). Scientific discovery and the psychology of problem solving. In R. Colodny
(ed.), Mind and Cosmos. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
***Simon, H.A. (1973). Does scientific discovery have a logic? Philosophy of Science, 40, 471-480.
Simon, H.A. (1975). The functional equivalence of problem solving skills. Cognitive Psychology,
Simon, H.A. (1981). The Sciences of the Artificial, Second Edition. Cambridge, MA.: The MIT
Simon, H.A., & Lea, G. (1974). Problem solving and rule induction: A unified view. In L. W. Gregg
(Ed.), Knowledge and cognition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Usher, A. P. (1954). A history of mechanical inventions.
Weber, R. J. (1992). Forks, phonographs, and hot air balloons A field guide to inventive
thinking. New York: Oxford University Press.
Weber, R. J., & Perkins, D.N. (1989). How to invent artifacts and ideas. New Ideas in
Psychology, 7, 49-72.
***Weber, R. J., & Perkins, D. N. (Eds.) (1992) Inventive minds Creativity in technology. New
York: Oxford University Press.
Framework for Comparing Inventors
**** A Framework for Comparing Inventors and Reflecting on the Design Process (Michael E.
Gorman, W. Bernard Carlson) 1.1 Mental Models. A mental model is a...
http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/~meg3c/id/TCC315/SupLecFrame.html - size 7K - 4
TCC 315 Invention & Design Home Page
TCC 315 Invention and Design. Home Page. Development of materials accessible through
this page was supported by grants from the National Science...
http://cti.itc.virginia.edu/~meg3c/id/TCC315/TCC315.html - size 5K - 9 Dec 96
Miscellaneous references to Invention, Etc..
Develop a survey of "How am I Doing?
Develop a 5 - 7 question survey that YOU give to your peer or superior management team. Each question should ask how Important the issue is to them and then their Satisfaction level with what you are doing. Ask an open ended question that allows the surveyed to comment on any issue they wish. Perform it initially, tally and summarize the results. Develop recommendations for improvements. Report the results to the group you surveyed and tell 'em what you are going to do to improve where needed. Then DO improve and take the survey again in a year. No one else around you is likely to be doing it so you will stand out in a positive light! These results will keep you from being blindsided by missing some needs that the team members have. It will also show the team that you are serious about making the right things better.
Constraint Management (Goldratt) --- The guy who wrote the book "The Goal"
Goldratt swears that people who take his ideas to heart get BIG improvements in weeks, not years, for thousands of dollars, not millions. I believe him. Make contact with the Goldratt Institute.
For more information on the Theory of Constraints (TOC) and related offerings, you can contact them
directly at the following office location:
Avraham Y. Goldratt Institute
442 Orange Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Arno A. Penzias:
This guy developed the "Big Bang" theory of the formation of the universe. For this he won the 1978 Nobel Prize for Physics.
Until just recently, he was the VP and Chief Scientist of Lucent Technologies-Bell Labs Innovations.
He presented to a packed house in of 3M researchers which I attended 10 or 15 years ago.
He left us with a lot of ideas on invention and creativity,
but one that stuck with me is that you need to develop the ability to figure out "what is big and what is small" quickly when analyzing anything. It is the art of estimating. You need to be able to determine the amount of precision you really need in a measure, and then not waste time overdoing it or, on the other hand taking data that aren't precise enough to get the job done.. These and other principles that guided Penzias are documented in the 1989 book he wrote, Ideas and Information, W.W. Norton.