Monday, November 30, 2015

The Coffee Pot and Innovation

The coffee pot can tell you a lot
of things about the corporate culture. 
Certain things happen in a business which are illustrative of that organizations culture and its approach to innovation.  This week I wanted to share an example.

The facts

It is 8:30 on a week day.  The coffee pot is out of fresh coffee and a pound of fresh ground coffee is sitting next to the pot.  The department manager comes into the office and sees there are no pre-measured packages from the coffee service.  They retrieve three pre-measured bags of coffee and make a pot of coffee.

The maker and innovator in the office perceives 

“This is why we cannot innovate in the business.  You had a pound of coffee and could not make a pot of coffee without a measuring spoon or visually filling the coffee filter.  This means we are inflexible to changing situations, unwilling to try new things, and unable to deal with ambiguity.”

The person who made the coffee perceives

“I don’t see it that way.  The pre-measured coffee is just the right amount.  I do not have to measure it.  I don’t have to guess and I know that I am going to get a good pot of coffee every time.  This means less waste and everyone got a cup of coffee with no fuss.”

Some conclusions

I need to read some Wittgenstein or take a class on his feelings about the nature of reality.  I am the innovator in the office and being unable to make coffee without pre-measured packages makes me crazy and is an example why change and innovation is so difficult.  The person who made the coffee does not see this as a symptom of a larger cultural issue and is more concerned with the end result rather than the process of making coffee.

This further reinforces what I have been reading in business literature and in cognitive psychology.  People want creativity until they are confronted with creative people and ideas; then educators and business leaders reject creativity.  So we create a situation of cognitive dissonance where we want people to be creative and adaptable but when they are we discourage those behaviors.

This is the world of shadows that a scrum master needs to navigate. We need to help people learn new ways of doing things but not be too creative otherwise we are going to face backlash and rejection.

So how do we agile professionals learn to better manage change in organizations who prefer the coffee in pre-measured packages?  I would love to hear your recommendations.

Until next time.