Both 10% and 10x

Vikram Kumar

The ongoing challenging financial environment facing most organisations emphasises the need for both continuous improvement and leaps forward at the same time.

It isn’t ‘either/or’ but ‘and’. It also isn’t easy, complicated by the fact that the mindset and approaches to both are so vastly different. The ability to have a culture that supports both lean and entrepreneurial at the same time seems impossibly hard.

Maybe it needs the flawed genius of a Steve Jobs.

Continuous improvement delivers those 10% incremental improvements. Done quickly and effectively and often, those 10% improvements add up to significant numbers. A great illustration remains Toyota, the company that pioneered The Toyota Way and gave us terms like kaizen.

By reducing waste and low value processes, continuous improvement frees up resources. Often, as is the case in most government departments today, it’s just a way to achieve those ever-increasing demands to reduce costs. Others can’t lift their sights above the next quarter’s results. Smart organisations, however, will use at least a part of the resources that become available to fuel the risky and difficult bets needed to make the big jump forward.

Making the 10x jump forward
An excellent start is to read the Wired article Google’s Larry Page on Why Moon Shots Matter. Page “lives by the gospel of 10x.”  It's a superb insight is that 10x is a mental state, a way of thinking.

Before the article gets lost in Google corporate stuff, there are many gems about 10x thinking such as:

Thousand-percent improvement requires rethinking problems entirely, exploring the edges of what’s technically possible, and having a lot more fun in the process.

… it’s hard to find actual examples of really amazing things that happened solely due to competition…If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re doing the wrong things.

10x thinking is certainly not an Internet-age phenomenon. There was a great story in the LA Times recently, Scientific research increasingly fueled by prize money, which described how “contests can bring outsiders, and new approaches, to the table.” It includes a reference to the X Prize Foundation which has the lovely mission of ‘Making the Impossible Possible’ and this historical example of a 10x jump powered by a prize:

Napoleon Bonaparte created a 12,000-franc prize for the preservation of food, in part so he could feed his troops as they marched across the more barren, or hostile, corners of Europe. That prize — the salary of a high-ranking public official at the time, according to UCLA historian Lynn Hunt — was awarded in 1809 to Nicolas Francois Appert, who preserved boiled food in champagne bottles, inventing commercial canning.

There are many other inspiring stories of 10x jumps, including one on how quartz watches disrupted beautiful Swiss precision engineering, moving the market very quickly to 10x more accuracy at 1/10th the cost.

I have to say that, personally, I’m more a 10x person than a 10%. You may be the same or the other way around. The point is, be aware and drive both 10x and 10% at the same time. That’s the path to sustained success in the ‘new normal’ of challenging financial environment facing most organisations.

Vikram Kumar is the outgoing CEO of InternetNZ. He recently started blogging on internet issues at Internet Ganesha

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