Incrementalism is Alive and Well

August 26, 2019

Often, I read that incrementalism is dead. And the way forward is innovation. I view the debate differently.

Within organizations there is a diverse group of people. I see incrementalism and innovation as different tools within a tool chest. You would never think of using a wrench in place of a screw driver. So why would you expect to have a kaizen to address getting the last 0.1% rework out of a bottleneck process?

I believe the biggest error made when working with innovation and incremental tools, is the misalignment assigning individuals to each tool and not understanding the shortcoming of each.

  • Some individuals are slower paced, plotter and even keeled or more methodical. However, they can still very effective and impactful. Assign them to incremental projects.
  • Some individuals are faster paced, more extrovert, ready to make the big splash and are not too concerned with the impact of the wave on the organization. When this energy is used correctly it is very effective and impactful. Assign them to innovation projects.

As practitioners of change, we should understand the capabilities and imperfections of our tools set.

  • Incrementalism:
    • Capabilities:
      • You slow down to see the fine details and the subtle changes required.
      • Has significant compounding impact to change over years.
  • Imperfections:
    • Can be stick in analysis paralysis
    • Risk never get anything implemented.
    • Only see the individual tree and the forest. Myopic vision.
  • Innovation:
    • Capabilities:
      • Quick delivery of solutions.
      • Significant and rapid gains.
  • Imperfections:
    • Sustainability and missing root cause are consistent Achilles heels.
    • Miss the nuances, root causes and smaller problems that can plague companies for years and slowly erode profits.
    • Risk leaving behind key/critical members of the team.

The Incremental and Innovation Win-Win: – Use Both Tools

  • We need everyone as part of the solution if you want to compete long team internationally.
  • Two areas generating improvements to profitability is better than one.