Posted by: productivityinc | September 25, 2009

Sitting Around Dying Efficiently

Yesterday afternoon in my e-mail inbox I received an e-newsletter with the subject line “Sitting Around DyingWheel Efficiently”.  It turns out that the subject was a combination of two separate article titles, but it got me thinking.

Now, none of us are sitting around, not in today’s market.  More than likely we are running around, from one thing to another, juggling 10 projects, or more, at the same time.  So, perhaps a better description of what we are doing would be “Running Around Dying Efficiently.”

We are killing ourselves to improve our organization’s financial stability and ensure long-term growth and success.  But what if we are actually just running around and dying efficiently?  What if, despite our best intentions and efforts, we can’t improve our way to success?

Consider this…if you have been relentlessly, systematically, and continually applying the Lean techniques to your value chain, yet still have not reached your organizational goals, the problem may not be with your improvement program, but with your business model.

More than likely you are competing in a crowded marketplace offering similar products and services, relying on the same suppliers, and subject to the same rules and regulations as your competitors.    Most of your orders are won and lost on cost and velocity alone – and surviving on the ever-diminishing margins this environment requires is becoming increasingly difficult.

Perhaps to be successful today, you need more than just an improvement strategy (improvement of existing forms of value).  Maybe you also need an innovation strategy (the ability to reliably and predictably create new forms of value).

Innovation provides a way to continually refresh your company’s value proposition and evolve your business model to be certain your improvement effort is improving value that will not soon be obsolete.

What do we mean by innovation?

Many organizational leaders misunderstand innovation.  They think of innovation in the narrow context of “new products” the by-product of a development function (R&D, NPD) designing something new based on voice-of-the-customer feedback to your Sales and Marketing Group. Innovation is bigger, much bigger than that.  Innovation is an enterprise-wide ability to consistently conceptualize, develop, and deliver to market new value by adapting and combining concepts that have been successfully demonstrated in other domains. This new value could be new products, services, processes, and customer experiences, but it could also be new distribution channels, new partner networks, or new markets — innovation applies to every aspect of your business model.

For many reasons, the marketplaces of today and beyond will be rife with competitive disruption and market context change. In this environment of continuous change, the ability to improve current forms of value, although essential in a near-term head-to-head competitive context, will probably not assure survival or growth in the mid to long-term context. It is only by possessing an organizational capability to frequently and reliably innovate will survival or growth in the mid to long- term context be assured.

When an organization combines institutionalizing the Lean attributes of activities, connections, flows, and learning with Innovation’s attributes of building a community of perpetual new value seekers, experimenters, and creators, that organization will become a long-term force to be reckoned with in any market in which it chooses to compete.

So, if you are relentlessly improving your organization and find that others keep raising the bar, the success you seek may not lie in doing the same things better, but in doing something innovative that opens a whole new avenue to your value creation. In other words, Running Around and Growing Efficiently!

Maureen C. Fahey
Managing Partner


  1. Excellent topic! Refining existing processes and systems may yield results but the question is how many times do we visit the same process before looking for alternatives or innovative ways to achieve similar or better results?

    It is unfortunate that extreme circumstances (like the recent economic downturn) are required before companies begin to take the necessary initiatives to “save” themselves.

    Innovation requires leadership, vision and intervention. How did the major companies of today achieve their successes? They literally reinvented and redefined the business environment in which they compete.

    Consider Toyota’s recovery in the 1950’s. While they were on the verge of being a company lost to the pages of history, they recognized the need for change. They studied what everyone else (Ford, GM) was doing and found a better way to do it. They didn’t simply try to follow in their footsteps to become a shadow of their competition.

    The same is true of other companies such as Alcoa, Southwest Airlines, Walmart, Google, and Apple to name a few. They are all examples of radical thinking that redefined how business is done.

    We all understand the purpose of transportation in the general sense. Think of how we have transformed over time to reduce the time it takes to get from point A to B: Crawl > Walk > Run > Horse > Bike > Bus > Car > Train > Plane > Rocket. Amazing and radically different methods driven by innovation.

    I recently came across a video titled “Competing with Giants” featuring Domenic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks. This short video presents the thought processes that redefined an industry and made Aruba Networks the largest or second largest company in their field. I’m sure if you google the title you’ll find the video on You Tube. Another video “Be second – but better” is also worth watching.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

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