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The change order (ruminations on innovation)

If any of you are in the
business of creating – whether that’s a mobile app or a building – I’m sure
you understand that the product or thing you’re working on will naturally
evolve and change over time – probably in unexpected ways.

In fact, I usually take this as a positive sign. When I have my
head in a project and I’m focused on solving problems, ideas will naturally
start to flow. I start thinking of things that I never would have thought
about at the outset. That’s why I generally think of creativity as a process,
rather than as some divine gift.

But the challenge with all of this is that many of our existing business
processes are not set up to deal with this kind of ambiguity. If anything we
try and punish these sorts of deviations. If it wasn’t pre-meditated at the
beginning of the project, we call it “scope creep” and charge extra for them as
“change orders.” These two words equal death in construction.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the realities
of running a business and the importance of managing scope and resources. It’s
a balancing act. Without some structure, nothing would get done. 

But the more that iterative
lean methodologies and “design thinking” can be embedded into our processes,
the more value creation I believe we will see.

My thinking is as follows: At
least part of the reason that innovation comes from startups and new market
entrants is that the founders aren’t usually sitting around talking about defined
scope and laying out elaborate business plans. They’re focused on creatively
solving problems and doing whatever it takes to get there.

It’s also one of the reasons
that conventional wisdom dictates that tech startups shouldn’t outsource development.
It’s too core a competency and you can’t “move
fast and break things
” if you don’t have that in-house and you’re constantly worried
about eye-popping invoices hitting your desk.

I have always seen lots of
parallels between startups and architecture. In both of these worlds, the idea
you start with is rarely what you end up with (at least that’s the case in
architecture school). You research, learn, and iterate along the way and that
leads you in new and unexpected ways.

And in my view, that’s often what
the path to innovation looks like. Because if you define the entire path at the
outset, how can you expect to go anywhere new? And if you’re not going anywhere
new, how can you expect to outperform the market?

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