Culture of Innovation and Ingenuity

This entry is part 6 of 18 in the series Interview Tom Marine Gets Right Upfront


MM: Your work validates one of the emerging principles of an innovation culture or an ingenuity culture: you must have in place a change-management process that you invoke whenever you need to accommodate an innovation.

TM: Yes. That would be an excellent model for any company.

MM: I believe that a lot of people consider innovation as a top-down thing. Yet, the real innovators with whom I have interviewed consider innovation as bottom-up activity, from the actual users – the stakeholders in the workflow. The reason? Because the actual users are the one’s closest to what actually has to get done, and, specifically, the nature and likely root causes of the pain.

TM: That’s absolutely true. However, upper management—even though it’s not their idea—must actively support an innovation or change for it to happen.

MM: However, most change processes run into trouble when it simply becomes a top-down mandate, as opposed to a bottom-up collaboration and discovery of, “What’s the best way of doing this one piece?” Effective change processes maintain the context of business priorities and individual needs.

TM: Absolutely.

Value Chain Analysis

MM: You also did something else at Hubert that I consider most extraordinary: you had developed this end-to-end visual depiction of the entire catalog development and publishing process—in part, what Michael Porter of Harvard Business School calls value chain analysis. In your telling me of this, you tied together several principles that others could apply in achieving similar results. Let’s start with, “Get it right upfront.”

TM: Yes. That was a theme that became our mantra.

It means making sure that you do things right the first time, and therefore you don’t have to worry about it later. That lives in several different areas. It can live as a whole—meaning if we hadn’t done the research and the white paper and all that stuff upfront, would we’ve been as successful.

But you can take it down to the minutia, too. That is, we identified during the current process that there was a maximum of 7 times where a price could be entered into the system. Now, that 7 times didn’t happen all the time—but it wasn’t unusual for a price to be entered at least 4 times into the system at some point.

MM: That means manual data entry of a pricing data 4 or 5 times against 50,000 SKUs?

TM: More than that. Yes.

So if you think about the opportunity for error there, and we’re talking about entering where it could be somebody writing it down on a sheet of paper. That’s “entry.” Right? Or putting it into a spreadsheet and not into a database. That’s entry. Putting it into one database and then another database. That’s two entries.

That’s what I’m talking about—how that is looked at. The idea was, “Let’s find the point where it should be entered—the right point—upfront. Let’s find out where it should be entered, who’s responsible for that entry, and—when you enter it—make sure you do it right.”

MM: Let me unpack it a little bit. First, you had this wonderful, messy, warts-and-all visual depiction of the entire end-to-end process—to which all the involved parties contributed. Then, you got everyone to physically signed off on the visual depiction. In effect, your got everyone to, “Yes. That’s my contract with reality.”

TM: Yes.

MM: Just in that process of getting them to put their signatures to the visual end-to-end process map, you dissolved all or most resistance to change.

TM: Right. When we came out of that, everybody in that room was eager for the next step. Not afraid.

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