– Thoughts on Strategy and Management

An Interesting Approach to Innovation

This week, I stumbled upon a blog post from Matthew E. May at the HBR Blog Network: The Less-Is-Best Approach to Innovation. The idea behind this approach is absolutely simple and straightforward, yet it is overlooked all too often. In this post, I like to support Matthews’s ideas with some experiences of my own. But first a brief summary of the original post:

Matthew writes that in his experience many successful products, services, processes and strategies have a few common characteristics:

  • Lean features: They abandon all the clutter and unnecessary features that make products and solutions complex, difficult to understand and error-prone.
  • Loose reins: Matthew advocates flatter organizational structures, self-directed and self-sufficient teams and employees, and “bossless” structures, meaning that employees will find tasks that best fit their skill-set and solve them with more expertise than their boss can have.
  • Quiet minds: Here Matthew mentions the positive effects of meditation and mental brakes, which shall help to focus and to achieve creative results.

The post ends with a sentence I could not support more:

“These three trends add up to a rather powerful, and appropriately simple, idea: when you remove the right things in just the right way, something good is bound to happen.”

My first thought was: Wonderful idea, but it is probably about never used in practice. However, after some thinking I realized, that I know some examples of how these trends are used (or not used) by myself. It is not that these ideas are never used in practice, but that they are all too seldom used intentionally. So here are my own experiences:

Lean features:

This is an example of how this characteristic is not used. Some years ago, I worked for an industrial and automotive supplier that produced high quality and high-tech metal parts. This company was very engineering-driven and considered innovation as one primary source of their competitive advantage. For them, improving their products naturally meant putting more engineering-expertise in, adding more features, improving functionality and so on. They were very successful with this strategy, until they realized that they started to loose sales to low-tech products from China. Some of their products were simply over-engineered, whereas customers simply needed a reliable solution with lean features.

Loose reins:

My current direct superior is a really good boss who has a loose rains leadership style. When I was new in his department, I entered his office and said that he should give me some tasks and projects to utilize the resource of my knowledge and experience. His answer was something like that: You already know what we do and what we don’t do. You know that many things here need improvement. I won’t give you any specific tasks. Just look around and if you find something that is of interest for you and you think you can add value to – just make it your project. With these few sentences he turned me into a satisfied and productive team member.

Quiet minds:

This is again about my current boss. When I entered his department he told me that it was entirely up to me what I do at what time and in what order.

And if you think you need a clear mind or a mental break, just get up and go for a walk or do whatever you feel is necessary in this situation. I won’t mind.


For those who are interested, here is Matthew E. May’s book The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything

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