Getting Known Good Ideas Adopted

This month Paul Borawski asked ASQ’s Influential Voices to explore two questions; first, what is the most important challenge the quality community faces in ensuring that the value of quality is fully realized for the benefit of society?

I really think it is just getting the good ideas to improve management, that have been around for decades, adopted. This might not seem that important. But I hear almost no talk about this and tons of talk about all sorts of “new ideas” for management.

The “new ideas” that I look into don’t seem like very new ideas to me. The best of these ideas are usually well thought out tweaks and enhancements (along with a potentially better presentation of the core ideas) that are useful. But they are really just about getting old ideas adopted, it seems to me. Still this is good and useful work.

Unfortunately the vast majority seems to me to be overly simplistic ideas that involved more thought in creating something to market than in creating something to improve the practice of management.

We seem to spend all sorts of time and energy focused on new branding for management ideas when we would be better off focusing on how to get organizations to adopt good practices. I think the distraction with finding new ways of clothing the same old ideas is a distraction that prevents focus where it would be more worthwhile. This is especially true because those rebranding old ideas often don’t understand the old idea. They seem to see it would easier to sell if it were simplified so they do that and rebrand it but they don’t understand that they left of critical components and it won’t work – even if it is easier to sell.

People want to seem like they are being innovative. Using some great idea from 50 years ago that 80-90% of organization still don’t pay much attention to just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that sets you apart as a leader in the field. It actually does, but it might be hard to convince others that this is so.

And related to that is the desire to trademark some new name to make it seem new, when it amounts to a rewording of past management ideas (and normally doing so in a incomplete and ineffective way).

And, Paul’s second question is: what question does the quality community most need answered in order to advance the state of quality practice in the world?

I think it is essentially the same issue. How to get organizations to adopt good ideas. We can tweak existing ideas and we can possibly come up with really new ideas (though given the past few decades experience I don’t see much reason to think this is likely).

I don’t see hardly any real innovation in management thinking. It is sometimes a variation on an old idea that includes a useful tweak. Far too often it is diluting a good old idea and presenting a less good version of that idea. It seems to me the problem is not really much about finding new thinking, new tools, new innovations and is mainly just about the gemba of management in the organization.

Why are the decades of evidence of good management practice continually ignored by so many organizations? What can we do to increase the adoption of good ideas? When you focus on just management it can seem managers are just insane – not adopting proven good ideas isn’t a sensible thing to do. Why are they not adopting known good ideas? This problem, of known good ideas not being adopted, is not only a problem for management. Science, medicine and many other areas that one would expect would not hesitate to adopt improvements do. It often takes decades for proven ideas to move into practice. So while management needs to improve how it does adopted known good ideas in looking for solutions to the problem we can look at many other areas where the adoption of known good ideas is far too slow.

It isn’t what is normally thought of as sexy stuff, it amounts to getting your hands dirty and the gemba and making things happen. But that is the key it seems to me. We need to adopt known good ideas much more than we need better ideas than we already have. Once we have adopted a good portion of the known good ideas then finding new great ideas will become more critical. My feelings are also largely influenced by the lack of brilliant new ideas I see.

If we were constantly leap-frogging past the new ideas we failed to adopt with newer, much better ideas then looking for new management innovations might be where we should focus. But I don’t see that happening. The great work in management in the last 30 years has nearly all been done by people applying ideas that existed 30 years ago and making them work in their organization and sometimes tweaking or extending them (sometimes doing so based on new possibilities created by technology – like the internet).

Related: How to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept AdoptedManaging Our Way to Economic Success, Two Untapped ResourcesNew of Different? Just Choose BetterNew Management Truths Sometimes Started as Heresies

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6 Responses to Getting Known Good Ideas Adopted

  1. This is a quote from Thomas Gilbert ‘Engineering Human Competence’ that I use with groups who are looking for “new management ideas” ..
    “The scientist sees themselves as a spot of knowledge in a world of ignorance…The engineer see themselves as a spot of ignorance in a world of knowledge.”
    There is a great deal of knowledge about what-works that we do not need to invent a whole new thing, just use what-works better and evaluate how well we are using it.

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