Monday, June 26, 2006


"Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative."

Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900)

Is consistency creativity killer? If shoved down creative people without due consideration, it can certainly be  a deadly killer of creativity.

This is very visible in big corporations. A bunch of creative people start a skunkworks project in dark and when it comes to some stage, it does become visible to management. If the management is not creative, they impose all sort of process on creative people in the name of consistency. They have a point too. Without due process, it makes several things unpredictable and that is not comfortable to people who are responsible to shareholders and other external entities.

Clay Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, developed a full theory around such phenomenon called disruptive technologies. Christensen shows how beneficial such disruptive projects are and how to manage them. He gives a framework to encourage innovative projects within existing companies and how to make best use of them. The trick is to treat skunkworks as a small incubating company and leave them alone and give them a lot of independence and treat them as a black box. Give them enough budget, recognize it as R&D expense, isolate them from corporate bureaucracy and let them turn some new stuff.

Biggest challenge occurs is when these skunkworks team develop something useful and it is time to turn them into mass production for company's financial benefit. Instead of imposing already working process, it makes sense to take a critical view of the process and see if still makes sense for this product. If not, it makes sense to revise the existing process for that new creative product line. More importantly people who worked on skunkworks project are indeed a creative lot and should not be restricted to follow process. That is the time for formal handoff from creative to consistent people and let creative people start to work on something new. That's the way companies can continue to innovate and survive.

Christensen's several books are really useful for managers struggling to manage disruptive technologies which are important but hard to manage.

Is consistency unimportant? Not at all. "Ideas do not move mountains but bulldozers do." For every creative person, you  need 10 high quality consistent people to attend to minutest details to make the product successful in mass market. If the creative person is the idea, these consistent folks are your bulldozers.

When the product matures, to introduce incremental benefits, process needs to be fine tuned. Consistency scales better than creativity. Smart mangers know how to manage both aspects of product life cycle and how to staff them.


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