My response to the Six Sigma vs Innovation Debate on BusinessWeek

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Having launched and managed several innovation programs at Fortune 100 companies, I can say for certain that Six Sigma is a far more natural fit for most companies than innovation. Six Sigma gives structure to the known, while innovation aims to do so for the unknown. There is nothing scarier/more threatening to a large company than the prospect of disruptive change. That is why most large companies are absolutely terrible at it. Only a handful are built to truly innovate. Digital, unregulated companies with short launch cycles, like Google, can do it. So do a few R&D-heavy ones like GE in the physical world. The rest? They act incrementally and like it that way, unless they feel an imminent threat which makes change inevitable.

At many big companies, innovation efforts are cosmetic, political, or just “bolted-on”. They are rarely part of the core of how those companies do business. Here’s a hint: if the company is always talking about “innovation” or having “innovation meetings”, I can guarantee you that:

  1. Their innovation efforts aren’t integrated
  2. Those efforts will fail
  3. They should go back to Six Sigma and acquisitions, instead of innovation, and call it a day.
The system for boosting quality may seem to run counter to disruptive changeβ€”but companies can have it both ways.
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