I’ve been taking a course on innovation on Lynda.com, an online training and learning community. The course, Business Innovation Fundamentals with Drew Boyd, focuses on how to innovate using Systematic Inventive Thinking, a method based on several techniques to innovate on demand.
It has been an interesting course, and one of the elements really caught my attention is the idea of structural fixedness – something that your agency must avoid to drive innovation.
Here’s a simple exercise to illustrate structural fixedness, the course asked the question:
How long did it take you to realize that it’s the number 2? Within our organizations, we sometimes fall into the trap of fixating on structure, it helps us navigate organizations, careers and know where to go when help is needed. But this rigor and sense of structure can also be an inhibitor of creativity.
Structural fixedness can block us from considering alternative options, new ways of thinking and forces us to stay in our comfort zones and what we are used too, or want to see. It makes it hard to see other or related products or services we could delver or how to fix a process. When you are operating in a complex and bureaucratic system, things often happen in sequence – so the structural fixedness becomes even harder to overcome.
A Solution: The Division Technique
The training explained that a solution to overcome structural fixedness is by using the division technique. This technique works by breaking up a product into smaller units, and then rearranging them back in a product. This technique is essential, because it breaks down a process and helps us to understand how each component interacts with the whole – potentially discovering improvements. Importantly, this technique takes hard tasks and breaks them into smaller increments to make them manageable.
Case Study in Overcoming Structural Fixedness: State of Texas
As I listened to the training, I was reminded of a public sector example of breaking through structural fixedness from our latest report on cloud computing. I’ve shared below a small excerpt from the state of Texas.
In 2011, the state of Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) realized cloud computing was essential to support the various missions of state agencies. Seeking to reduce costs and increase efficiencies through smart IT investment, DIR started a cloud pilot program, specifically designed to understand the contractual and operational components of cloud computing, and how to spur adoption of cloud services.
The twelve-month pilot program allowed three agencies to customize a cloud solution from a variety of pre-approved cloud service providers. The resources could be procured through a central self-service web portal, and then information was collected and shared to inform future cloud implementations across government.
“During the DIR pilot, we were focused on uncovering the realities and the myths of adopting cloud services, and see how the public sector reacts to having react to a marketplace, where you don’t have to go through a lengthy procurement cycle,” said Todd Kimbriel, Director E-Government and IT Services at Texas Department of Information Resources.
The pilot program used by DIR allowed the state of Texas to think differently about cloud procurement, and new way to allow agencies to adopt cloud. By breaking down the components, and exploring a new method of cloud adoption, Texas was able to rapidly provision new services, and fulfill their mission in new ways.
Structural fixedness is an important topic to be aware off. By breaking through structural fixedness and dividing projects into manageable tasks, you can help drive innovation within your agency.