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Six Sigma is Deadly for Innovation - But then I’ve said that before!

Every so often, doubtless in a doomed bid to make the whole process of growth and innovation more predictable, some bright spark comes up with the idea of trying to apply six-sigma quality controls to the innovation process. They seem to think that if only innovation could be made more orderly, a more predictable result would ensue. I've said it before, and will say again, six sigma is not the appropriate tool to try to find new things. It's very helpful for optimizing things that already exist, but the parameters that allow it to work properly are totally different in an uncertain and unpredictable world. I was first made aware of the difficulties of using six sigma in this way back when I was doing a fair amount of senior-level executive development at 3M. A new CEO was trying to bring some order into what had become a rather chaotic corporate process, and six sigma was one tool that was being used – as it later turned out – inappropriately, for innovation. I had said it wasn't a good idea at the time. And I guess the company has now caught up. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, CEO George Buckley was quoted as saying: …it isn't a process. The quality improvement process Six Sigma's worked wonderfully in our factories, but we tried it in our labs and it doesn't work. It's obvious why. The creative process is a discontinuous process. You can't say if I put more money in it I am going to get more out." Well, Bravo for that! Ready to take on stage/gate anyone?

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