Q1. Hi Mike. I'm reading your book, Simplifying Innovation, now - I'm about a third of the way through now and I'm liking it. Before I ask about the book, can you tell me a little about yourself?
Hi Clarke - My wife, Carol, and I live in Racine, Wisconsin. I know that sounds like it’s close to the arctic circle, and this time of year it feels like it too, but it's only about an hour North of Chicago. We live there with our rescue pitbull terrier Sugar Bear, so that would definitely make us dog people. I have to say, the whole pitbull stigma is total rubbish—just media hype. Pitbulls (or Staffordshire’s as I think you call them in the UK) are intelligent, obedient and loving dogs that just want to please their owners - unfortunately that's true no matter what kind of idiots own them.
Q2. Why did you focus the area of innovation for your business and writing and how did you become involved with TOC?
Growing up in the midwest, Saturdays were project days; my Dad would wake me at the crack of dawn to tackle another home improvement or repair project - anything from automotive to plumbing, from carpentry to small engine repair. Honestly, at the time, it felt more like indentured servitude, but over time, I realized that I truly loved troubleshooting problems, finding solutions, and fixing things. Probably to the point of annoyance for my wife who sometimes feels like - "can't you just leave well enough alone." But for me, that's what coaching and consulting on innovation is all about: Understanding what makes things work better and better. Identifying problems, finding solutions and helping implementing them.
My first exposure to TOC was around 10 years ago when I was the general manager for SC Johnson & Son's North American industrial polymers business (now part of BASF). Our manufacturing operations saw such great results with TOC that I just had to learn more. So I spent some time with our Jonah, a guy by the name of Jeff Rideout, learning whatever I could. From there, I was hooked and began reading and learning everything I could about TOC applications.
Somewhere along the line, a good friend of mine, Dr. Paul Gloor,suggested that we should be able to apply it to new product development. So we began dabbling with TOC concepts in one of our new business units. We were investing heavily in new products and saw some real improvements. Over the next few years, we began integrating the thinking processes wherever we could--like using the future reality tree to plan new product projects and to look at what was constraining the success of individual new product projects. It became a very powerful tool for us, but we were just scratching the surface.
Eventually, knowing there was much more there, I started my own coaching and consulting firm, Guided Innovation Group (www.GuidedInnovation.com) where I fully developed the TOC for new product innovation concepts and began helping companies use these concepts to drive improvement in new product growth and speed to market.
Guided Innovation is focused on working with companies that want more impact from their new product and innovation investment. With our unique, TOC based approach, clients have been able to slash time to market, increase new product profits, and reduce new product expenditures. Most importantly, they’ve been able to do so with their existing resources. Everyone talks about the importance of innovation, but no one wants to spend more money – nor should they. That’s where our approach comes in – helping them get more from what they’re already spending.
3. What's your new book about?
Simplifying Innovation is about how companies can use the five focusing steps of TOC to get more impact from their new product investment in less time. I have to say that it wasn’t my intention to advance the TOC body of knowledge with this book. Rather it was to make TOC accessible to an even wider audience – those responsible for new product development and marketing.
So the book is really more of a synthesis of some of the most effective concepts from innovation and marketing together with TOC as a focusing mechanism—just like TLS where Lean and Six-Sigma are now being combined with TOC for even faster improvement in manufacturing. For me that’s part of what makes TOC so powerful. There are all these powerful business improvement concepts constantly coming at you, but it’s hard to know which ones you need to pay attention to. In Simplifying Innovation, I show you how TOC provides a framework that helps you decide which problem to focus on and which tool to use.
4. It's not easy writing a book, let alone a business novel. Why did you go that way?
Rather than going the traditional business book route, I decided to bite the bullet and write a business novel inspired in part by The Goal. I say, bite the bullet because a didactic approach—one that teaches through story, is really like writing two books at the same time. You have to craft an engaging story line, including characters readers can relate to as well as conflicts and an important objective or goal. But as Carol Ptak, who I’m sure you know co-authored Necessary but not Sufficient with the Eli’s (Goldratt and Schragenheim), shared with me as I was getting started, weaving them together is a huge challenge. You can only advance the story line when you’ve made the teaching point, and you can only teach at the right point in the story line. Learning to do all of this was fascinating, and I really enjoyed it.
Of course business novels aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, so I also included a practical summary at the end. This is probably heresy, but that’s one of the things I always missed in Goldratt’s books. Patrick Lencioni’s leadership novels always have practical summary at the end. I’ve read all of his books and I thought “What a great idea – I’ll do a summary.” It added 20 plus pages to the book, so I ended up going well over my target of under 200 pages. But some early readers have really appreciated it, so I think it was the right call.
I’m also planning a second book, which would be a traditional business book and will be kind of step-by-step how to guide. It will be called the Simplifying Innovation Guidebook or something along those lines. I’m hoping to publish that in late 2010 or early 2011.