Lean Blog Interviews — 451: Alan Robinson on Continuous Improvement for All and Practical Innovation in Government

Episode page: https://leanblog.org/451

My guest for Episode #451 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is Dr. Alan G. Robinson. He specializes in managing ideas, building high-performance organizations, creativity, innovation, quality, and lean production. He is the co-author of 13 books, many of which have been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

Dr. Robinson is on the faculty of the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts. He received his Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, and a B.A. and M.A. in mathematics from the University of Cambridge.

He has served on the Board of Examiners of the United States’ Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and on the Board of Examiners for the Shingo Prizes for Excellence in Manufacturing.

He’s a returning guest (Episode 217) – talked about one of his previous books (co-authored with Dean Schroeder) — The Idea-Driven Organization.

His bestselling book, Ideas Are Free, co-authored with Schroeder, was based on a global study of more than 150 organizations in 17 countries. It describes how the best companies go about getting large numbers of ideas from their front-line employees, and the competitive advantages they gain from this.

His new book, available now, also co-authored with Schroeder is Practical Innovation in Government: How Front-Line Leaders Are Transforming Public-Sector Organizations.

Today, we discuss topics and questions including:

  • As we’ve learned from you previously… “Roughly 80 percent of any organization’s improvement potential lies in front-line ideas.” — Potential?
  • Continuous Improvement vs Innovation? Used to draw a distinction
  • The Tesla factory doesn’t have the continuous improvement culture of NUMMI?
  • How much progress have you seen in terms of executives understanding the power of engaging everybody in bring forward and implementing ideas?
  • Alan’s first book was with Shingo — “mass creativity”
  • UMass Memorial Health — 100,000 ideas and your role helping them?
  • Tell us about the new book — what prompted you and Dean to write this for this audience? What prompted the research?
  • Educating / influencing elected leaders vs. career government employees
  • The role of front-line leaders vs. senior leaders vs. elected officials?
  • Non-partisan – almost 50/50 from their research party wise
  • The phrase “practical innovation”?
  • Does adopting these practices mean we are “running government like a business”?? 
  • Adoption at local (including schools), state, or federal levels?
  • Does “practical innovation” get past pointing simply to budgets as a barrier?
  • Demanding cost savings or ROI is a kiss of death for improvement?
  • 1841 — Original article that invented cost/benefit analysis… “only useful for the simplest…”
  • Why cost/benefit analysis is stupid
  • Would we expect government in Japan to be a leader in Kaizen?