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Mark Graban

Mark Graban: Every Employee Is An Innovator

By Mark Graban, - Last updated: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

“Innovation” is a trendy business buzzword – it’s much more appealing, generally speaking, to executives than the term “lean” is. Innovation is sexy and fun. Lean sounds dull and monotonous. Improve continuously — who has the patience for that? Not those who would rather swing for the fences and find that one silver-bullet home run innovation that will ensure future profits.

Lean organizations, while not ignoring large innovations (think Toyota Prius), also focus on daily innovation through Lean and process improvement methods, like kaizen. It’s often thought, mistakenly, that Lean and innovation can’t go together. Those who think Lean created rigid, standard, robotic methods don’t understand that standardized work and kaizen go hand in hand. Lean *is* innovation, but lots of little innovations that add up to a big difference.

I’ve visited a small 80-person manufacturer in Rhode Island called VIBCO. They have an amazing spirit of kaizen in their operations – something that’s more important than any Lean tools. I participated in a morning when a large group of executives from a group of hospitals came for a visit. Healthcare loves innovation (think MRI machines and new medications), but often ignores the opportunity for kaizen.

One of the eye openers for the hospital team was expressed by one of their executives at the end of the tour, as she said that the thing that was most striking at VIBCO was that every employee was an innovator. Yes, she used the word innovator. Every staff member work on process improvement every day — that’s the cultural goal of healthcare organizations like ThedaCare and the University of Michigan Hospital and Health System.

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