Archive for September, 2011

Rapidinnovation — A Room with a View

September 28, 2011

Observing Real Life Systems

To me, observing real life systems is something like this:

“A real life System comprises of a meaningful set of objects, diverse in form, state and function but inter-related through multiple network of interdependencies through mutual feedbacks enclosed by variable space, operating far from its equilibrium conditions not only exchanging energy and matter with its environment but also generating internal entropy to undergo discrete transformation triggered by the Arrow of Time forcing it to behave in a dissipative but self organizing manner to either self destruct itself in a wide variety of ways or create new possibilities in performance and/or behaviour owing to presence of ‘attractors’ and ‘bi-furcations’; thereby making it impossible to predict the future behaviour of the system in the long term or trace the previous states of the system with any high degree of accuracy other than express it in terms of probabilities since only the present state of the system might be observable to a certain extent and only a probabilistic understanding may be formulated as to how it has arrived at its present state and what would keep it going, thus triggering creative human responses to manage, maintain and enhance the system conditions, function and purpose and create superior systems of the future for the benefit of the society at large.”

Such a represenation of an observation looks quite involved. Perhaps it might be stated in a much simpler way. Most real life systems behave in a complex manner creating multitude of problems of performance and failures. But how do we get rid of complexity and uncertainty as exhibited by systems? We may do so by deeply observing the complex behaviour of the system to improve our perception to gain insights about the essence of the system; find out the underlying ‘imperfection’ that causes the apparent complexity and uncertainty and then find ways to improve the existing system or create new system and maintain them in the simplest possible manner. We do this by applying the principles of chaos, reliability and design. Surprisingly, the same process might be used to troubleshoot and solve problems we face on a daily basis. If done, we are no longer dominated or dictated by the ‘special whims’ of the system. 

The crux of the matter is how we observe reality and understand it so as to make meaningful choices as responses to life and living. 


Rapidinnovation – See & Touch Invisible – DesignKata #2

September 27, 2011

The previous post dealt with the first Design Kata of keeping a journal in which a problem solver, innovator or design thinker keeps a record of the decisions taken and how one arrived at those decisions.

However, as we know the most important task for a problem solver or design thinker is to find a ‘why’ for an event, phenomenon or failure that takes place.

Keeping that in view Design Kata #2 deals with the practice of seeing and touching the invisible.

Why is that?

This is because answers to the ‘why’ of an event, phenomenon or failure lies in the understanding of the nature and quality of the interactions and interdependence of the elements that happen in a given space.

It is also clear that a) interdependence between things, b) the edges of interactions of such interdependent things and c) the transitions of states and relationships that take place of over time are physically invisible to the human eye.

Hence effective problem solving and design thinking is all about seeing and touching the invisible, without which cognition of a problem can’t even start. Admittedly, this is a difficult thing to practice.

And why is that?

It might be best understood by the visual representation, presented below


Diagram 1

Most of the traditional problem solving methods, techniques and processes start with viewing the top events or failures that emerge and then somehow try to drill below this level to understand the patterns that cause them, which are then attacked to solve the problem. Some methods also try to drill down one step further to understand the systemic relationships at work and try to change the relationships in an effort to solve problems.

Rapidinnovation, so to say, is an inversion of the traditional processes of finding the ‘why’ to problems.

After understand

ing the ‘form’ of the emergence (events and failures) it straight away views the elements and the ‘empty’ spaces in between the elements that contain the ‘undesirable’ dynamics causing ‘system imperfections’. Such ‘system imperfections’ constantly give rise to a gamut of patterns causing various possible emergences to happen over a period of time.

So the journey starts at the bottom of the diagram by viewing the elements (form), assessing their interdependence (feelings), perceiving the interactions or dynamics (perception) that helps us to form context specific concepts of the existing and other inherent ‘imperfections’ in the system that create enabling ‘patterns’ for myriad events and transition states to emerge (context specific mental constructs). Such ‘mental constructs’ then help us ‘understand’ the observed emergences and transition states. This then enables us to act and design suitable ‘balancing relationships’ that help us to eliminate a range of undesirable emergences of events and transition states. In a future post we would discuss the monitoring of transition states, which in itself would be another DesignKata.

Clearly then, seeing and touching the ‘invisible’ is an inverted way of viewing emergent phenomenon, events, failures and transition states. We don’t try to find the ‘why’ by directly drilling down. We do so by ‘inverting’ our view point, which I call as having, the ‘right view’ of things.

So, to practice this DesignKata of seeing and touching the ‘invisible’ the practitioner is advised to apply the inverted right view of things to whatever one encounters in daily life that might be a matter of interest to the practitioner.

However, it depends on the ‘signals’ one is capable of perceiving. And surely there are many interesting emergences one comes across in daily life. It is the intention of the observer that would keep him/her alive in this practice.   

 That for me is the practice of ‘enlightenment‘ in the ‘here and now‘ 


Rapidinnovation — The Journal – DesignKata #1

September 23, 2011

I believe that all problem solvers, innovators, design thinkers need to develop a suite of practices that enable them to perform better as time progress. “Design Kata” offers such a suite of practices that would help any problem solver to move towards better contextual understanding of any situation he/she faces if not attain greater wisdom and keener insights. 

As problem solvers and design thinkers we always take decisions. Our quality of decision making determines the quality of our performance in our field of work.

So, the first “design kata” that I recommend is to have a ‘decision making journal‘. Whenever, we take an important decision on some problem, it helps if we take care to write down in a journal what decision we took, how we arrived at those decisions and what is expected once the decisions are implemented.

We can also make note of how we felt physically and mentally while taking the decision.

Over time, a well kept journal, written in our own handwriting, would reveal patterns in our decision making style and process, which we can then modify and develop as desired for enhanced performance. And if need be we can then develop more patterns of thinking and practice them to see the outcomes they produce. In this manner both our repertoire of techniques and our confidence in our problem solving skill increase over time.

Such journals also help us keep a tab on the decisions we took for a specific problem. It would not only remind us to take a feedback of the effectiveness of implementing our proposed solutions but also record the benefits those solutions provided over a longer period of time. It helps us enhance our understanding of problems, improve our problem solving skills and increase the depth of our thinking.

Over the last 31 years my shelves are filled with more than 100 such journals that have kept track of my thinking process, styles, approaches I took to tackle thousands of problems in my field of application including my moods on specific days and how I felt during the process.

Looking back, I can clearly see at what point of time, my own signature style of solving problems emerged, which must be the goal of any problem solver or decision maker, i.e. to develop his/her own signature tune and learning over a period of time.

To my mind this is the number 1 Design kata a problem solver must initiate and practice.

How much do you agree on this?


Rapidinnovation – Understanding Complexity

September 21, 2011

As Problem Solvers we sometimes misunderstand complexity and the play of complex adaptive systems. We can become so obsessed with the solutions we come up with that we forget to take notice of the interactions and interdependence between things and how our proposed solutions might affect the existing web of interactions and interdependence, creating more difficult problems for us to tackle in the future.

For instance, in the late 1800s rangers at Yellowstone National Park saw that the population of elks was dwindling. They reasoned that the elks were not getting enough food to sustain and grow. Hence they came up with the bright solution that the elks must be ‘forced feed’ by human beings so that their population would substantially increase avoiding a possible ‘risk’ of extinction.

The solution seemed viable and nothing seemed to be missing. So the rangers of Yellowstone park brought in the U.S. cavalry to implement their solution to hand-feed the elks. And as expected the solution worked wonders. The elk population swelled. 

But that is not the end of the story. As the elk population swelled the elk started eating aspen trees. But aspen trees were what the beavers were using to build their dams that caught the runoff in the spring, which allowed trout to spawn.

Now with less and less aspen trees there were less and less dams and with less and less dams there were less and less trout to spawn. So more elks equaled less trout.

Why did this happen? It happened since we did not recognize that we were dealing with an ‘adaptive system’ which by nature, exhibit complex and often unexplained emergent behavior.

The seemingly ‘good’ solution of ‘force feeding’ elks led to a series of cascading events that were completely unanticipated.

We most often seek to improve complex adaptive systems, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

It doesn’t take a lot of stretching of our mental awareness to make comparative understanding of complex adaptive systems of the elk ecology to the ecology of organizations and economy. Even with our best intentions in place, there seems to be really no way we can anticipate the ultimate results with ‘tinkering’ with complex adaptive systems. .

The important question that we must ask ourselves is, “What conditions have to be in place to actually solve these kinds of challenging problems? It does not matter whether we are attempting to solve organizational problems, or machinery problems, ecological problems, economic problems or grappling with design problems.

For some strange reason they are all complex adaptive systems exhibiting their strange behavior through ’emergence’.

Rapidinnovation: Managers — Change or Get Kicked Around!

September 19, 2011

Right from the start of my career I never wanted to report to a manager who would only be there to keep record of what I was doing and inform me when I slipped on a self imposed deadline or schedule.

I thought that this was really funny. Why should a highly paid person (obviously higher than what I earned) kept, only monitoring me as if I were a circus animal?

I wanted something better. I wanted a boss or a manager who can guide me out of my difficulties (even personal ones), teach me the tricks of the trade and cushion the shocks of my failed experiments in my efforts to change performance and innovate.

Was it something very peculiar to my psyche? To make sure, I asked some of my peer buddies. And surprisingly they all came up with the same need that I was looking for.

If this were so, why companies would waste their valuable money keep supervisors who were just modern day versions of ancient slave drivers? As soon as I thought that I was magically transported to the vivid scenes of Cecil b deMille’s “Ten Commandments” where the Egyptian slave drivers were merrily lashing their whips around controlling thousands of slaves building pyramids and other infrastructure of Egypt.

Things haven’t changed much from those ancient days. Perhaps the form changed. The physical whip has long been replaced through industrial revolution by the ‘verbal whip’ and pens that possibly stings more emotionally than physically, leaving people more unproductive, raw and vulnerable than before – smarting and humiliated.

This triggers another vital question – Who needs whom? Do the employees need the organization? Or does the organization need employees who can think for themselves? The answer is not easy. When viewed from the principle of interdependence (one of the guiding principle of Rapidinnovation) the answer is ‘both’. Employees do need organizations as platforms to use their talents and perform as much as Organizations need employees who are willing to put up a fine performance.

How can this be achieved?

This might only be achieved if we take a ‘Human Centered View’ based on reasoned thinking on emerging situations, spontaneous creativity aided and guided by the focused will of management and managers who would be more willing to act as coaches and mentors for employees rather than take up the sick role of glorified version of slave drivers and ‘kill-joys’.

Without wasting much time I started my humble experiments in this direction (1980) since even as a Graduate Engineer Trainee I was already the boss of the Maintenance department.

So, rather than enjoying the ‘strange’ powers and ethereal joys bestowed upon me by the Top Management to grant leaves, permissions of all sorts and motivating my subordinates through regular enticements of ‘overtime pay’, ‘special increments’, ‘office parties’ I started mentoring them in my own way. It was good in a way since there were no well laid out precedents to follow so as to be trapped by rigid standards of earlier performance.

The focus of all that mentoring was simple indeed. How do we make sense of what is happening in the ‘now’? No big theories to contend with. No vague and remote scientific truths to digest. There was nothing irrelevant to what is happening in the ‘now’. We were jointly trying to make sense with me in the ‘mentor’s’ seat.  

Though I was greeted by derisions from my well healed but old fashioned managers the ridicule and jibes soon turned into amazement, recognition and awe. The result was more than I ever expected. We could complete projects before time (not on time). We cut operating costs by half (not 10% as slated in the annual budget). We increased machinery productive uptime to more than 98% (from a measly figure of 50%)… and more.

Surely, I was then bitten by the bug of coaching and mentoring which I kept repeating with great success and joy in all my subsequent jobs and professional engagements.

Today, after so many years, it is amply clear to me that mentoring and coaching are things that employees respect and live for.

That of course is all bad news to mangers who try to manage their mundane affairs in old fashioned ways of stick, carrot, numbers and prediction models. It seems to me that their time is up and they now stand ‘naked’ and vulnerable in front of their subordinates who certainly expect more mastery from them in the true sense of the word. It is already late. People are now ready to disrespect the last vestiges of the quintessential ‘slave driver’ mentality in traditional managers. How do we know? We know when performance goes much below what is expected.  

Making a successful transition from Managers to “Mentors and Coaches” appears to be the respectable choice offered to present day managers.

Managers – change or get kicked around!

Rapidinnovation – The Non-Process

September 16, 2011

If perhaps the first two posts in this series did not make it obvious, the focus and intended results of Rapidinnovation is to increase individual awareness and understanding of the conditions, circumstances and phenomenon that surround them. 

The foundation of such awareness and understanding is built upon  a few Principles, rather than relying on specific tools and techniques.

Developing an individual’s awareness and understanding helps effectively bring about significant changes in prevailing situations, which is the objective of any innovation. .

However, increasing an individual’s or a group’s understanding of an existing situation or phenomenon is a tricky issue that refuses to follow well defined paths.

So, in order to have a standardized approach to understanding the traditional route is to first have a theory in place, which we then try to fit onto existing situations to identify parts that cause trouble or problems. Parts of the situation that don’t match the constructs of the pre-existing theory are then considered to be problems that need to be rectified to bring about desired changes. Additionally, it also calls for labeling or classifying a given situation into some sort of problem type like ‘quality’, ‘productivity’, ‘industrial’, ‘machinery’, ‘financial’ reflecting the present tendency to classify or categorize problems into definitive silos..

For example, if a problem is determined as a ‘quality’ issue the problem is observed through some of the known quality tools and methods to arrive at an understanding about the problem. Once the abnormality or deviation from the norm is identified efforts are stepped up to correct the specific finding generally ignoring other relevant connections and interdependencies that might modulate or influence a problem. 


September 12, 2011

In my previous post I promised to introduce Rapidinnovation — a school of practice on innovation, which exists but not made know to the world so far. I feel the time has come to reveal this school of practice.

For the last 31 years I have been solving problems in engineering and manufacturing industries. Though it wasn’t exactly the profession I started out with but over time the love for solving problems snowballed into an insatiable passion. Soon the passion overflowed and spread to almost all areas of various types of manufacturing industries working on a variety of difficult, wicked and seemingly unsolvable problems.

Unique solutions were found that gave stakeholders benefits year on year. But there was something that was odd. The way the problems were solved did not match any of the existing methods and so called processes of problem solving and innovation. It did not follow BPR (Business Process Reengineering) techniques. Neither did it use Six Sigma or TQM (Total Quality Management) tools. Nor did it apply tools of TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) or TOC (Theory of Constraints). Neither did it completely resemble Systems Thinking or Design Thinking nor did it completely follow the traditional lines of CBM (Condition Based Maintenance) and RCM (Reliability Centered Maintenance) for addressing or solving machinery failures and problems. 

Soon, I understood that there was something unique in my Rapidinnovation practice, something “unnamed”. It is definitely working in some way to which I could not put my finger upon for a long time. But the point was it was giving nothing less than outstanding results all the time. My teacher and mentor Prof Henry then named it Rapidinnovation, where the acronym stood for Reliability Availability and Performance Improvement through Design Innovation (Rapidinnovation).

That more or less defined the purpose and the approach in broad brush strokes. The purpose of innovation was clear. Any product of innovation, whether soft or hard must be reliable for the intended purpose (must not fail while working), must be available to perform for the desired time and also provide the desired Performance (for example, protect ecology, ensure safety, ensure value, alleviate sufferings, improve productivity etc..). And the approach to achieve the objectives would be through Design Innovation or Design Thinking

The area of application was also clear, which is as follows:

Innovations must be based on the ‘NOW‘ (N). Innovation must be based on ‘Present Failures‘ (F). Innovation must solve some ‘Present Problems‘ (P). And NFP innovations must be guided and informed by reality. Otherwise it is mere distorted thinking or imagination to cover some unreal risks.

Looking more closely, I soon realized that it is different to all other schools of thinking on innovation. The difference was that while other schools insisted on specific tool set, techniques, processes Rapidinnovation was based on a few principles. The other important difference was stress on human understanding. While other schools of thought grossly ignore this aspect of development of human understanding which is the corner stone of Rapidinnovation approach.

To summarize, the important issues of Rapidinnovation are:

1. It is based on the basic premise of ‘interconnected’ and ‘interdependent’ whole.

2. It is based on a few principles of “becoming”, “flow”, “balance” and “change of states”.

3. It is based on the development of human understanding rooted in ‘non-fear’ rather than heavy use of tools and techniques

However, it does not do away with domain knowledge expertise though at the same time it urges one to do away with firmly held notions, ideas and pet theories, which when often repeated exhibit hidden fears rather than confidence to make sense of reality, so essential to problem solving and innovation. In brief, it strongly discourages Fear Induced Innovation (FII).

There is another thing. Innovation is not only about ‘exploration’ that seeks new perspectives and ways. After an innovation is designed, implementing and putting it to proper use is ‘exploitation’. Exploitation is doing routine things efficiently whereas ‘exploration’ forces us to think differently. So the two parts of innovation are ‘Exploration‘ and ‘Exploitation‘. For balance, both are equally needed. One can’t be separated from the other.

Since we need both Exploration and Exploitation we need both the skills of the left and the right brains. We need to think in both parts and the whole. We need explore as well as exploit. We need to be effective as well as efficient. 

Clearly we have now come to the ”inclusive” age not the age of excluding this or that or trading this for that or insisting on ‘one true way’ or exhibiting ‘holier than thou attitudes’. It is therefore time to get free of jargons and sound bites (efforts to create sort of myriad ‘self identities’) of all sorts and focus on what needs to be done to get inclusive results that help many. This is because Ideas and concepts of ‘exclusion’ do not resonate deep within and stir the human soul to do what it was always meant to do — create and adapt.

And following the trends towards increasing openness and collaborative efforts Rapidinnovation conveys ‘Openness‘ that allow people to create their own approaches, tools and techniques within the given principles of understanding the dynamics of Nature and Life. Weighing it down by any dogmas, insisting on specific tools and techniques would be not only unfortunate and counterproductive but also disastrous. It must remain open to reality and must remain contextually relevant to the time of application helping people solve their problems both personal and professional by their own ‘free will‘ within the given contextual constraints of apparent ‘determinism‘ aiming at balancing the dynamic paradox of the opposites. 


Fear Induced Innovation vs Rapidinnovation.

September 11, 2011

Here is a Facebook status update of Rahul, a friend of mine, who works as a consultant in Tata Consulting Services, and is presently engaged in improving the manufacturing process of a large gold jewelry manufacturing company in India:

“Last 2 days I got great exposure and learning while understanding with respect to India “What does Innovation means & How it happens” for the companies like Google, Intel, Yahoo, IBM, 3M, Infy, Wipro, Biocon and many more big & small enterprises from the CEO’s, MD or VPs of these companies….The mandate came from Summit- Making Bangalore the Innovation Hub for Asia. (in the field of Manufacturing, Pharma, Energy…and obviously “IT” 🙂 )”

It was obvious that he was quite happy attending this Summit. But I wanted to understand from him the deeper insights he gained from the interactions during the Summit. Few days later he came out with a terrific insight about the Summit and put that in as a comment to the discussion thread, which was the following:

“I found that almost all big companies are involved in doing innovation in the name of fulfilling the Future needs of the people, But they are not thinking much to solve the present “Wants of the mankind” specially the basic wants of low income group..i.e. food, water, energy, transportation, house, having regular income….Business house generally think this as a charity or CSR activity, but this is wrong, these issues have huge potential for doing Innovation and also have successful business models to sustain it…..It requires patience and focused approach from individuals and organization to address the problems of the larger section of our society.”

Now that was something very significant and what I fear most about ‘innovation’ — that is trying to do something for the future by completely ignoring the present.

Trying to do something for the future is insurance and not innovation. And insurances are always made to cover known and unknown risks and consequences. I call such innovations ‘Fear Induced Innovation‘ (FII). And why is that? Risks are imagined or perceived – never real. So addressing such risks is done more out of fear than anything else — just like any insurance policy we undertake. 

Paradoxically, such innovations based on fear or induced by fear are always risky, costly and most often do not serve any real purpose of the society in which they spawn and develop. They sap the resources of the society without paying them back adequately. The society is exposed to more risks than achieving solid gains in improving the standard of living of its citizens. Hence to cover such risks at low cost big companies are setting up their innovation centers in India and China away from their homelands. It is a sort of gamble that may not pay off in the long run.

What is the answer?

Innovations must be based on the ‘NOW‘ (N). Innovation must be based on ‘Present Failures‘ (F). Innovation must solve some ‘Present Problems‘ (P). And innovations must be guided and informed by reality. Otherwise it is mere distorted thinking. 

I have classified the innovations that address the NFP (Now, Failures, Problem) as products of Rapidinnovation, which is a more inclusive form of practice under Design Thinking. I shall write on Rapidinnovation in my next blogs.

FII (‘Fear induced innovation’) is never the real one. CEOs are often found to run after FII to turn around companies. But they fail. No wonder, the CEO of Yahoo got fired over phone just two days back on 9th Sept 2011. CEOs of modern companies seem to work like ‘freelancers’ far removed from the ecology on which they operate, thrive and grow.

I feel that the need of the hour is to have Creative Leaders who understand the inclusive nature of innovation, or more specifically the inclusive practice of Rapidinnovation.



CL – Self Organising Movement in Complexity

September 7, 2011

Electrons, Corrosion, Particles, Water, Smoke, Population, Bacteria, Organizations, Societies, Nations, Human minds have one thing in common. They all move. All such movements grow and evolve, not through top-down direction and control, but through balancing of opposite forces or diverse ideas, changes in quantities that change the quality of movement and change of phase transformation of becoming through the elimination of previous states of being. But what changes situations are changes in relationships that, so to say, hold the ‘organism’ together.

We may say that social relationships are built around opposing or diverse ideas, apparently paradoxical, that mutually support relationships that are mostly non-linear lending the inherent ‘complexity’ in its movement and behavior that defies individual control of human beings. New ideas gain traction or lose it depending on their inherent appeal and utility and desire of people. Leaders in such movements give shape and flow to such collective desires. Individuals coalease spontaneously as do individual groups. Such spontaneous self organization helps new alliances to emerge rooted in the situation and the mutual needs of the groups (which I call as ‘situatedness’) depending on what works for those involved in the moment. What exactly would emerge is both difficult to assess and predict with great degree of certainty. While some alliances are fleeting; others endure; and some serve their purpose before they dissolve. Whatever, it might be, the states always transforming and changing. Such becoming is the nature of complex systems.

Therefore, in short, social systems self-organize around ideas and non-linear relationships. They are living, complex, dynamic, and constantly evolving as they and their members learn from shared experience generated by various leaders who emerge at different points of time and space.

This is because as social movements develop, multiple sources of leadership are essential since improvements and movements of complex systems affect the whole and never in parts. Any individual or group, however that presumes to be the leader of the whole or aspires to organize a central coordinating body to impose order on the chaos does not understand the process of self generated chaos itself which is nothing but directional order. Hence self-organizing chaos is integral to the movement building process and essential to its success of the whole of complex systems.

Those who understand the complexity of the self organizing, self sustaining process are creative leaders.


CL – stands for Creative Leadership.

IOU – The Dandelions

September 5, 2011

Mulla Nasrudin spent the entire autumn working his garden. Beautiful flowers blossomed next spring. And Nasrudin was happy and proud. But he noticed a few dandelions appearing, which he hadn’t planted. He wasn’t much pleased with that emergence.

So, Nasrudin tore them up. He wanted his garden to remain as pure as possible — just the way he wanted it to be. But the pollen had already spread and others began to grow. He tried to find a weed killer which only killed dandelions. A specialist told him any type of poison would end up killing all the other flowers. In despair, he went to ask a gardener for help.

– It is like a marriage – said the gardener. – Along with the good things, a few little inconveniences always appear.

– What can I do? – insisted Nasrudin.

– Learn how to love them . Although they are flowers you did not count on, they are still part of the garden. Peace does not lie in only getting what you want. It lies in understanding what to do when you get what you don’t want.