Does efficiency stifle innovation?

Businessweek published their excellent annual special on innovation in its June 11th issue. I was particularly fascinated by “At 3M, A Struggle Between Efficiency and Creativity“, which asks whether Six Sigma has stifled 3M’s famously innovative culture and suggests that efficiency measures “lead to more incremental innovation at the expense of more blue-sky work.”

After all, a breakthrough innovation is something that challenges existing procedures and norms. … While process excellence demands precision, consistency, and repetition, innovation calls for variation, failure, and serendipity. … Indeed, the very factors that make Six Sigma effective in one context can make it ineffective in another. Traditionally, it uses rigorous statistical analysis to produce unambiguous data that help produce better quality, lower costs, and more efficiency. That all sounds great when you know what outcomes you’d like to control. But what about when there are few facts to go on—or you don’t even know the nature of the problem you’re trying to define?

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