Key Words: Innovation; Innovator’s DNA – Networking, Observing, Questioning, Associating, Experimenting; Organic Growth, Culture of Innovation – Purpose, Mastery, Autonomy; Knowledge Work Productivity; Manual Work Productivity
Recently, Lydia Dishman, an innovation and entrepreneurship contributor to Fast Company, asked me to comment on a trend in the workplace – tracking of employee collaboration and productivity using wearable technology devices. You can read my comments in her Fast Company article titled: “Can Performance Be Quantified? Wearable Tech In The Office.” In this blog, I will elaborate on several of the comments I made for the article.
Problem: All the developed countries today are predominantly service / knowledge based economies. Upwards of 70% of the employees are working in these sectors. While this has been true for more than 20 years now, unfortunately, productivity in the service sector has never reached the levels of productivity in the manufacturing and/or agricultural sectors. Quantifying, capturing, tracking and improving Productivity in the knowledge sector has been even more difficult; hence the interest in this topic. Please note: I make a very clear distinction between the low-wage service jobs and the relatively higher-wage knowledge work.
Solution: Wearable Technology that tracks employees. For example, the Hitachi’s Business Microscope is a device that employees have to wear around their necks at work. It measures and analyzes the employees’ interactions and activities. When the employees come within a specified distance of each other, they recognize each other and record the face time, body and behavior rhythm data to a server. Executives can then analyze which groups tend to interact and cooperate. So, where are we heading with these sophisticated “dog tags?”
Trend: In the last 5-7 years, based on several data collection techniques, enterprises have been labeling employees as knowledge “spreaders” or “bottlenecks;” as “loners” or “connectors;” as “influencers” or “followers.” Why are firms doing this?
Challenge: Innovation that spurs organic growth is the most difficult challenge that large firms are facing in the last 15+ years. Specifically, firms realize that they need a cadre of seasoned innovators and internal-entrepreneurs (intra-preneurs) to spur innovation and organic growth. Unfortunately, except for a few, the majority of firms are struggling in their innovation efforts as well as fostering a culture of innovation where these innovators and entrepreneurs can thrive and flourish.
Innovator’s DNA: What makes innovators different? How do they routinely come up with great ideas? How do they think and act? What is their mindset? What are their behaviors? Research shows that great innovators and successful and serial entrepreneurs demonstrate five key skills – Network, Observe, Question, Associate and Experiment. Firstly, they are great at networking – meeting people from diverse backgrounds and skills. They immerse themselves into situations that expose them a variety of perspectives. This in turn helps them to sharpen their observation, questioning and association skills. When thrown into uncomfortable and unknown situations, most of our senses are in a state of heightened awareness. Hence, intense networking helps innovators and entrepreneurs to become good at observing and listening; especially, they do so without prejudice. Immersion and interaction with a diversity of situations propel them to constantly question the status quo within their own areas of expertise or specialty. They are constantly trying to improve and change things for the better. This questioning leads them to associate, copy and relate ideas and experiences across functions, industries and arenas; leading to possible new ideas and solutions. Finally, innovators are great at experimenting, exploring and testing their new ideas and solutions. They just don’t talk about it. They take the initiative to test if their ideas are in fact opportunities.
Innovation and organic growth within large firms is about routinely identifying great opportunities, shaping and developing them and then capturing them. For large firms, these great opportunities lie at the intersection of disciplines, functions and/or geographies. As seen in the Innovator’s DNA discussion above, we know that great ideas and creativity happens by associating and merging disparate streams of knowledge. However, association and new opportunities emerge only when there is a lot of networking among the different disciplines and functions of their large enterprise. Networking leads to better observation and listening and that in turn drives curiosity and questioning of the status quo. Creativity can be highly individualistic. However, organic growth which is the result of innovation is still the result of a lot of collaboration within large enterprises. So you see firms are desperately trying to force networking and collaboration among employees; and trying to measure it.
Innovation is knowledge work. Unfortunately, knowledge work cannot be treated and/or captured the way we have captured manual work. The traditional ways of measuring manual productivity is more than 100 years old. It goes back to Fredrick Taylor’s scientific method on manual work. It was about defining the task, defining standards, measuring against standards, focus on quantity and minimizing worker costs for a task through command and control structures. However, we live today in Peter Drucker’s Knowledge world. Drucker knowledge worker as against Taylor’s manual worker is much more focused on understanding the task, continuously learning, teaching others and innovating. Ideally, the employees focus on quality of work, they are treated as assets and not a cost and they work in environments where there is great autonomy.
Further, there are more differences between manual work and knowledge work. Manual work is visible whereas knowledge work is invisible. Manual work is highly specialized, quite stable, has structure—definite process and outcome, and is about running known tasks with the right processes and fewer decisions. On the other hand knowledge work is holistic, always changing, has no defined boundaries of process and outcome, and is about uncovering the unknown by asking the right questions and making a lot of decisions.
Hence, it will be quite difficult to capture knowledge work productivity using manual work productivity tools and methodologies. We need to invent new ways of capturing the knowledge worker productivity. Innovative firms have found ways to harness the knowledge worker in multiple ways. 3M has been doing this for nearly five decades, W.L. Gore for the last 40 years and Google more recently. They energize and engage their knowledge workers with a sense of purpose; enable them to master creativity and innovation in a climate with a great deal of autonomy.
Some questions to ponder: Will these high-tech wearable tracking devices help firms become more creative and innovative? Do they foster networking, observing, questioning, associating and experimenting? Do they transmit a sense of purpose, provide autonomy and enhance mastery?
 Innovators’ DNA, HBR, Dec. 2009
 Source: Reinvent Your Enterprise, by Jack Bergstrand