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Dr. Yoram Solomon has an article on Innovation Excellence entitled “The Creativity Nuclear Reactor: Must Everyone in the Company Be Creative?” available (here).  His premise is that companies, even those known for creativity such as 3M and Apple, have very rigid processes and structures for most of the organization.  The secret is that deep within there is a central core of explosive creativity.  The rest of the structure is to channel this new creative power toward its ultimate purpose.

To support his position, he uses an analogy of a nuclear reactor.  The majority of the structure is very rigid but at the heart is a reaction.  The purpose of the remaining structure is to transfer the energy from this central reaction under very rigid conditions and processes.  This is not presented as a loose analogy, but literally:


“While a company needs to create an environment supportive of free flow of ideas, an environment low on formalization and processes, and high on autonomy, this environment is required only for the creative team. Neither the manufacturing and operation teams, nor the accounting or administration teams can operate in the same “free flowing” environment. Those must remain rigid, formalized, with strict processes, and very little autonomy.

This is how Apple works. This is how every large, highly creative company works. It is not “creative” throughout the entire organization. only where it matters and is important….The rest of the company needs to support operations, while letting the creative core be, well, creative.”

I guess this esteemed “inventor, creativity researcher, coach, consultant, and trainer to large companies and their employees” missed IndustryWeek’s (part 1, part 2, part 3) last interview of Dr. W. Edwards Deming entitled ‘Management Today Does Not Know What Its Job Is’.  His humble credentials over 93 years consist of transforming a nation and leaving a legacy focus of quality, lean, and continuous improvement that is still dramatically reshaping not only manufacturing, but software development, management theory, business startups, and countless other aspects of society.

When the reporter highlighted “Things are so much different now than when you were formulating your 14 points for transformation of American management. Are you saying anything now that you weren’t saying before?”.  His simple reply, “No. The 14 points are good enough for me.”  Dr. Deming goes on to elaborate on what management’s job actually is.  He claims:

it’s first job is quality and it must start in the boardroom….Quality means what will sell and do a customer some good–at least try to…..The customer invents nothing…No customer ever asked for the electric light, the pneumatic tire, the VCR, or the CD. All customer expectations are only what you and your competitor have led him to expect, He knows nothing else.”  “The source of innovation is freedom.  All we have—new knowledge, invention—comes from freedom. Somebody responsible only to himself has the heaviest responsibility. “You cannot plan to make a discovery,” Irving Langmuir said. Discoveries and new knowledge come from freedom. When somebody is responsible only to himself, [has] only himself to satisfy, then you’ll have invention, new thought, now product, new design, new ideas.

What a contrast in views on the necessity of the human contribution within manufacturing.  I think the continuing successes of lean initiatives and continuous improvement programs, all requiring innovative ideas from every employee involved in every process weakens the analogy of these processes being a cylindrical nuclear reactor built of reinforced concrete. In fact, as market pressures grow, flexibility is needed more than ever, the continuous improvement innovation from employees in an otherwise static process is no longer sufficient.  The processes themselves must be flexible enough to change with the ever more rapidly changing conditions and be able to incorporate the best ideas those engaged in manufacturing production can identify for improvement.  Automation is certainly increasing in its use.  It’s increasing flexibility is replacing more and more repetitive tasks, but the modern day manufacturing environment is dependent upon workers not only having the freedom but taking action when they detect quality issues where no specific check-point or sample is taken.  They identify subtle variations in sound or equipment performance when no maintenance work order exists.

There is still a need to enable, support, and follow structured processes.  These are important to ensure safety, efficiency, consistent quality, effective and predictable throughput, and data and process capture for traceability and production confirmations.  They also ensure actions such as consuming materials are captured and other processes procure more or move final goods to customers.  The structure in these processes serve a very vital function, but they must be rapidly adaptable and support the freedom of the person.  Many companies are successfully utilizing SAP Connected Manufacturing solutions to provide the necessary structured processes, but enable the freedom to the worker of role based, mobile, on-demand analytics, and flexible process modifications for them to adapt to increasing market conditions communicated in national manufacturing strategies such as Germany’s Industry 4.0,

The International SAP Conference on Extended Supply chain is actually an event series of conferences that contains the manufacturing program but allows access to all.  The full brochures with session details are available on-line.

Click on the links to register:

Hope to see you in Darmstadt and bring your colleagues.

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