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Giants of Computing: A Compendium of Select, Pivotal Pioneers

All rights reserved. Remember me on this computer. Cancel Forgot your password? Year Language English 9 German 1 Undetermined 1. Displaying Editions 1 - 10 out of Giants of computing : a compendium of select, pivotal pioneers by Gerard O'Regan. Print book. While American companies relied on staff experts to come up with process improvements, Toyota gave every employee the skills, the tools, and the permission to solve problems as they arose and to head off new problems before they occurred.

The result: Year after year, Toyota has been able to get more out of its people than its competitors have been able to get out of theirs. As this example illustrates, management orthodoxies are often so deeply ingrained in executive thinking that they are nearly invisible and are so devoutly held that they are practically unassailable. The more unconventional the principle underlying a management innovation, the longer it will take competitors to respond.

In some cases, the head-scratching can go on for decades. While other grocery chains have been slashing costs to fend off Wal-Mart, Whole Foods has been rapidly evolving an extraordinary retail model—one that already delivers the highest profits per square foot in the industry. Managers consult teams on all store-level decisions and grant them a degree of autonomy that is nearly unprecedented in retailing.

Each team decides what to stock and can veto new hires. What differentiates Whole Foods is not a single management process but a distinctive management system.

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Confronted by management innovation this comprehensive, rivals can do little more than shake their heads in wonder. Sometimes a company can create a sizable management advantage simply by being persistent. Not every management innovation creates competitive advantage, however.


Innovation in whatever form follows a power law: For every truly radical idea that delivers a big dollop of competitive advantage, there will be dozens of other ideas that prove to be less valuable. Innovation is always a numbers game; the more of it you do, the better your chances of reaping a fat payoff. A management innovation can be defined as a marked departure from traditional management principles, processes, and practices or a departure from customary organizational forms that significantly alters the way the work of management is performed.

Put simply, management innovation changes how managers do what they do. And what do managers do? Typically, managerial work includes. In a big organization, the only way to change how managers work is to reinvent the processes that govern that work. Management processes such as strategic planning, capital budgeting, project management, hiring and promotion, employee assessment, executive development, internal communications, and knowledge management are the gears that turn management principles into everyday practices.

They establish the recipes and rituals that govern the work of managers. In most companies, management innovation is ad hoc and incremental. A systematic process for producing bold management breakthroughs must include. Key changes included. Translating a novel management idea like innovation from everyone, everywhere into new and deeply rooted management practices requires a sustained and broad-based effort, but the payoff can be substantial. I have yet to meet a senior executive who claims that his or her company has a praiseworthy process for management innovation.

As with other types of innovation, the biggest challenge is generating truly novel ideas. Some of the essential components are. Chunky problems. Fresh principles. Unorthodox thinking. Wisdom from the fringe. These multipliers of human creativity are as pivotal to management innovation as they are to every other kind of innovation.

The bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity for innovation. Nearly 80 years ago, General Motors invented the divisionalized organization structure in response to a seemingly intractable problem: how to bring order to the sprawling family of companies that had been assembled by William C. Sloan, Jr. Thanks to this management innovation, GM was able to take advantage of its scale and scope.

Giants of Computing

It takes fortitude and perseverance, as well as imagination, to solve big problems. These qualities are most abundant when a problem is not only important but also inspiring. Frederick Winslow Taylor, arguably the most important management innovator of the twentieth century, is usually portrayed as a hard-nosed engineer, intent on mechanizing work and pushing employees to the max.

Awkward, inefficient, or ill-directed movements of men, however, leave nothing visible or tangible behind them. Their appreciation calls for an act of memory, an effort of the imagination.

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And for this reason, even though our daily loss from this source is greater than from our waste of material things, the one has stirred us deeply, while the other has moved us but little. To maximize the chances of a management breakthrough, you need to start with a problem that is both consequential and soul stirring. First, what are the tough trade-offs that your company never seems to get right?

Management innovation is often driven by the desire to transcend such trade-offs, which can appear to be irreconcilable. Open source development, for example, encompasses two antithetical ideas: radical decentralization and disciplined, large-scale project management. Maybe you believe that your organization has become less and less agile as it has pursued the advantages of size and scale.

Second, what are big organizations bad at?

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This question should produce a long list of incompetencies. Third, what are the emerging challenges the future has in store for your company? Try to imagine them: An ever-accelerating pace of change. Rapidly escalating customer power. Near instant commoditization of products and services. Ultra-low-cost competitors. A new generation of consumers that is hype resistant and deeply cynical about big business.

These discontinuities will demand management innovation as well as business model innovation. Any problem that is pervasive, persistent, or unprecedented is unlikely to be solved with hand-me-down principles.