Saturday, September 26, 2009

Is all "innovation" always good? Unintended consequences? Requirements for renewed innovation?

We once asked a question on a forum on LinkedIn. We shall repeat one answer here, with a set of renewed questions... prompted by a very interesting and insightful answer by a now good friend, Rodica Petrescu (absolutely no connection other than that her husband has the same name as I). Thank you.


Where are you from? "I am from allover the world... " What does this tell us/you?

A few years ago, my then 5 y.o. is asked and asks a boy on the playground in a little university town in Central Pennsylvania "Where are you from?" The little boy answers partly puzzled "I am from here". My little girl answers "I am from allover the world..." To the boy's puzzlement she then answers again with a list of all the places she was feeling connecting to, from Texas to Michigan to Pennsylvania all the way to Europe, particularly Romania.

Hasn't the time already come some time ago imposing thinking this way? Meaning that we relate globally, inclusive with a needed built in lifestyle flexibility? Jobs are dying out in Detroit, we shall be able to seek them out in Europe, Latin America, or China or India or Korea, or even Kazakhstan? (I mean much beyond the obvious culprit in Iraq these days).

How does this trend and potential paradigm shift in lifestyles affect us? Are we ready for it? Have we global-proofed our careers, skill sets, life visions, family adaptability?

How ready is the work environment you work in? Company leadership? Is there a realization of workforce empowerment by way of global mobility? Or does it cut solely the other way (through fear inducing management "techniques" such as 'as much as I like you, Joe, if you're not more careful there, your job ships to China next!')?

I'd love your input, critiques, comments, suggestions. Thank you so much in advance.

_Rodica's Answer_

"From Rose - your friend from 100 years ago

Dear Adrian,

How are you? Is life good to you? I think often of my old village…

Remember 100 years ago, my small grocery shop facing our tiny street and my house at the back and above? And doctor's house (his office in front of the house) across the street, the pharmacist’s, the tailor’s few houses away and yours at the end of the street across from the priest's, close to school, where you were taught all of our kids. I remember those summer days and kids playing together in the street, their laughter and chasing around, while we worked. Sometimes our daughters stormed in my shop to help neighbors with groceries - they always got candies for that. They worked even better and faster than me, while I cooked the soup and stew for lunch. Your daughter loved my stew! I remember how they played in little doll houses, "cooked" in little pots, even made a little "doll grocery shop", telling me how they'll have one bigger than mine when they grow up. After all day’s chores, I was so tired that I'd just simply crawl in bed and fall asleep in seconds. Life was hard and you'd never get a break, work - family – house, all in the same time, but at least we knew each other and never locked front doors.

After 50 years I got this huge career opportunity in the big city. My job was 60 km away from home, so I put my kid in daycare, to be looked after by people that I did not know personally, but with excellent credentials. Heartbreaking to leave her crying in there, but it was better to be educated by professionals instead of aunt Matilda, although to her credit aunt Matilda loved her dearly. She first cried after your daughter but forgot her after a while, as kids always do. She watched TV, played video games - it was fun. Life was better and easier in the big and beautiful house with industrial range kitchen, pizza delivery, on-line groceries and banking. But no time to cook, plus the kitchen cost a fortune and didn't want garlic smell lingering around anyway! My daughter never came to my office but she thought it must be terrible, since everyday I returned home tired and stressed and took work home, as I had such tight deadlines. I thought she was fine, since she declared she will never grow up, just be a child forever, with no worries for mortgage, job security, outsourcing and all those un-imaginable things. I worried for my work-life balance, so and I balanced my life in the evenings. It was rather boring, since my daughter didn't know my colleagues and my work and I didn't know her friends, so we ran out of topics rather soon. Unfortunately I lost touch with old friends, because you always have to prioritize and after you do that, you need to go to sleep. I guess other people are better than me at that.

After other 50 years got my next huge career chance in a multi-national company, offering solutions and counseling for both work-life and work-sleep balance. As you know, work-sleep balance became key because half of people work on the other side of the world. I am very successful and always praised for my positive attitude, hard-work and willingness to stretch beyond limits. Sometimes I wonder if I am indeed happier than I was in my grocery shop, but these moments don't last long. I compare things I missed with my great accomplishments and I am not sorry. Everyone has to sacrifice something to build a successful career. I own a mansion, all for myself now since my daughter is at Yale. The house has everything one dreams of, including a state-of-the-art alarm system - as you cannot be careful enough these days. My daughter is home during vacation; truly brilliant kid and keeps to her studying even when home. We don't spend much time together, but overall life is great!

These are my news. I have to end here, as it is almost 3 am and I have a conference call. Hope is all well with you.

All the best
Yours, Rose"

I am from "all over the world" too... Cheers

[Rodica Petrescu lives and works in Toronto, Ontario Canada]

In innovation one always useful yet not as often used technique is subtraction. Essentially simplifying to essence, as opposed to adding features. The Toyota Prius (and not only) door opening is innovated by a process of subtraction, taking away the need to open/lock the door with a key or by pushing a FOB.

[The subtraction is of a phase from the human open/close door process. Yet, of course in design/production terms it can be seen as an addition of a RFID keyless entry system nonetheless]

If one uses subtraction to innovate about our current mode of life, can one see/find value?

Besides, are all the additions ultra-valuable all in all? What does Rodica's "letter from Rose" tell us?

We used to have in old villages school teachers. Respected members of the community, they served many functions besides teaching school. Trusted advisers to decision-makers, usually elder. Offering counseling to families about raising their children, to children as they grew up about their problems and concerns and why not education and career goals if they had them or if they could be induced/inspired in them. These are now services one can purchase from licensed professionals, for fees paid. I learned over time that students still come often to teachers with their problems, by simply the trust built and authority figure they represent. Whether in middle school or college or graduate school, we all have done it. Many are however too shy to do it. We have available social services when the churches do not do this function or not enough of it.

What do we need to subtract to maybe make these self-help and related available processes more effective and equitably accessible irrespective of one's means or shyness? Certainly, counseling at hundreds $/hour is great when you are a Hollywood star, but when you are not, how does the changes in the "letter from Rose" affect our daily life for people who may not afford help when they need it? Have we inadvertently "subtracted" characteristics of our communities, maybe even subtracted the teachers' roles? Or have we rather added features which in turn subtracted others?

Indeed, the category above is "when to innovate and when not?" Can we trace some answers?

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