The following is the final installment of the 3 part series on the current state.  In the the first two installments we examined the importance of understanding the current state for process design and problem solving.  This weeks installment is a focus on current state and innovation.

Unlike with process design or even problem solving, there is far less understanding that creativity and innovation very often come from understanding the current state.  I’m not suggesting that brainstorming and creative “think tanks”, and other means aren’t effective to promote creativity and innovation.  However, often our mental models can obscure the truth and hold us back.  Understanding the current state can help break you out of your mental models and promote creative ideas that you couldn’t have imagined.   Let’s look again at our friends on the railroad.  I think most of us understand that the railroad track is fastened to a series of railroad ties for direction and stability.  The fasteners used to connect the track to the ties are often brackets fastened with large screws driven into the wooden ties.  The impact of trains over a period of time will ultimately cause these screws to loosen and strip the tie.  You can’t simply go back and tighten the screw, they won’t tighten.  The bracket won’t hold and the track can float.  The maintenance crews might only discover a screw or two (there are 4 per bracket), but when discovered they must be replaced even though they don’t provide an immediate threat.   To fix one screw they must jack up the track a distance of about 2-3 ties on each side of the damaged tie, unscrew the damaged tie, remove the entire tie, replace the damaged tie with a new tie, and then fasten the rail to the new tie.  Extremely time consuming, costs a lot of money and causes train delays or speed restrictions.  A rail engineer was observing the process and wondered if they could drive a hardwood peg in the screw hole (fill the hole) and tap a new screw to the railroad tie.  That’s what they do today.  They take the old screw out, drive a hardwood peg into the hole, and tap the hole with a new screw–done.  No ties removed or replaced.  So who says you can’t put a square peg in a round hole?

Another benefit of understanding the current state for innovation is often you will find a connection for an idea that you already may have but haven’t applied.  This is called “conceptual blending”.  I don’t consider myself a particularly creative person but I do think I am good at taking two seemingly disconnected thoughts and seeing a connection.

In summary, the default thinking for any process improvement, problem solving or even if creating a new service or product, should be to first and foremost deeply understand the current state.  Use pictures, videos, diagrams, process maps, and best of all– direct observation.  Do whatever it takes.  Simply remember —“everything starts with the current state”.