The evolution of ideas as an accepted paradigm and basic assumption in organizational culture.
“And he misses that feeling of creating from out of something. Yes, from out of something. Because to create from out of nothing is to completely invent something. It’s not worth anything, and it’s no great feat. But creating from out of something is when you discover something that has been in existence all the time, within yourself, within an experience that has never happened before.”
(Etgar Karet, “Suddenly a Knock on the Door”)
Who Will Take the Place of the Genius Inventor?
It was an amazing promise: Shai Agassi, the founder and CEO of “Better Place” and a brilliant, charismatic entrepreneur, was leading a market-disruptive program to develop a car with an electric engine. The investors were fighting over every scrap of involvement and excitement in the media and social networks was exploding. When I met with Agassi, I could see the fire in his eyes; I could feel his enthusiasm and his faith in his revolutionary product. But it was hard to find the same excitement among the members of the development team – in casual discussions in the corridors, I could sense their doubt. Maye they were hesitant to bring up questions, because they didn’t want to be thought of as the people who were “slowing down” the promising initiative. Their reservations or critique of the basic assumptions of the development problems were aggressively denied or rejected by Shai Agassi and his management staff.
After the first fleet of “Better Place” cars hit Israel’s roads, the community and the media were astonished to discover that the project had failed. Huge investments in the promising start-up were lost. The trust of the investors, workers and suppliers had turned into deep disappointment, and the excitement had turned into anger, as if they had been victims of a scam. Despite some worrisome signs, and even if the circumstances are completely different, we hope that “Tesla”, led by international entrepreneur Elon Musk, will not fall into the same trap that “Better Place” fell into.
There is extensive evidence to show that the product development process is still regarded as a form of alchemy. Yet the myth of the “Genius Inventor” that has developed around super-developers – from Leonardo da Vinci to Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, and, in our own time, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sergei Brinn, Larry Page and Jeff Bezos – has not helped us to break the code of human creativity or even to learn how to improve the process by which things are created. Why do these myths take the place of systematic, scientific thinking in the field of high-tech?
A Recipe for Failure
Beliefs have been the foundation of human endeavour since the dawning of time. For example, until the end of the 19th century, phlebotomy (bloodletting) was an acceptable medical practice. Even though it had been developed by witch doctors in ancient times, it was accepted for hundreds of years. George Washington received this type of therapy when he caught a cold; nearly 1.7 litres of blood were taken from his body – which probably contributed to his death in 1779. Indeed, until it came under examination according to scientific criteria and experiments, medicine was more of an art that a scientific discipline.
The purpose of science is to search for the (objective) truth that leads to an understanding of reality. We are well into the 21st century and the theory of Divine Creation has yet to be scientifically examined, yet a Gallup Poll, conducted in May 2017, reveals that 38% of American citizens believe that God is the sole source of creation – which teaches us something about the deep human need for certainty and authority. Of course, Darwin’s theory of evolution has a few holes and leaves many questions open, but these actually stem from the articulation of his theory according to scientific methods and on the basis of rational language.
A charismatic entrepreneur who is imbued with belief in his idea is a necessary requirement, but it is not enough to lead to the successful development of a product. The creative, dreaming, imagining human spirit is merely the beginning of the development of a product. To turn it into reality, the product must first be tested as a hypothesis in empirical experiments. The line that divides belief from knowledge must be clear and sharp. Confounding the two is a recipe for failure.
The race to understand the secret of human creation perseveres. The entire global system can serve as an experiment, encompassing tens of millions of entrepreneurs in which the evolution of millions of ideas (mutations) can be examined. Which ones will survive? Under ideal conditions, each and every idea must compete with the other ideas in a series of empirical experiments. A theory, concept or an idea that has been empirically confirmed will progress into a product, or become the accepted standard – until it is disrupted by a new mutation that will prove to be more suited to the rapidly-changing circumstances.
And so, even though most of the people involved in development were trained in technologies based on scientific thinking, and although the use of scientific examination is likely to lower the level of risk in project development, those who actually manage the process of development according to the principles of analytic thinking and the use of scientific tools are few and far between. How do we explain the phenomenon of entrepreneurs and development staff who act irrationally and prefer to keep their dreams safe from doubt, criticism, and empirical investigation?
The Process of Development from Vision to Reality
The community of product developers who operate according to Lean principles (LPPD) views the principles of the evolution of ideas as an accepted paradigm and basic assumption in organizational culture. Acceptance of the values that stem from this organizational culture is the way to integrate into it. Since one cannot anticipate the most successful idea (the mutation), nor can we know from where it will appear, the best choice is to encourage a multiplicity of ideas and then subject each to the course of natural selection, which includes competition and strict tests of validity and feasibility.
Casting doubt is not being a trouble maker, nor is it slowing down the process. It is a value-producing Lean process, prevents waste and should be encouraged. The absence of a culture value of critical thinking on the one hand, together with blind loyalty to a charismatic leader, on the other hand, presents a risk that is far too great for a business to take upon itself.
In healthy development processes, the vast majority of new ideas (including those considered “brilliant”) do not survive the process of examination and validation. They never reach the customer – which is how it should be. When an idea falls early, it saves capital, human resources and good will that would be wasted on an idea that is not suited to the technological, commercial or social circumstances – or is merely unnecessary.
Lean thinkers are thankful for the exposure of mistakes and encourages exposing them as early as possible as a product moves up in the product development value-stream cross functional process (this is referred to as “Front Loading the Risks”). Early discovery of problems and obstacles leads to fewer surprises and leaves space and time for learning as preparation for coping with the critical problems that arise during a development process.
On the assumption that the creation of man through a natural evolutionary process took some 3.8 billion years (within scientific communities, there is still some controversy over the precise time), the tools and technologies that will serve man must be developed according to the same scientific principles – although, one might hope, a bit faster….
In our next article, we will closely examine another basic principle and value of a LPPD organization culture – the principle of “Critical Thinking.”
Boaz Tamir, ILE.