Ben Bensaou: From Lean Production to “Built to Innovate”


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My guest for Episode #434 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is Ben Bensaou. He is an INSEAD professor and is the author of Built to Innovate: Essential Practices to Wire Innovation into Your Company's DNA.

Ben earned his PhD at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where I was an MBA student. He was part of Jim Womack‘s research team that studied the auto industry and that group coined the term “Lean.”

He's joining us from Kobe, Japan, where he is on sabbatical.

Today, we discuss topics and questions including:

  • I'm curious to hear your memories and reflections of the Womack research era
  • “Japanese management model”? – how would you describe that? 
  • Jim Womack episode on “Machine Revisited”
  • Labor / talent shortages — similar challenge in Europe or Japan now?
  • Was there anything from that research that wasn't widely understood by readers and business leaders?
  • “It's a mindset” not tools, techniques, and gimmicks 
  • Parallels to innovation? How much is a mindset?
  • The importance of building trust with suppliers
  • “Innovation is everybody's job”
  • “The fundamental is trust in people”
  • “… permission to innovate” – culture and environment
  • Is there a spectrum between C.I. and innovation?
  • Can innovation be taught? Can innovation be a process?
  • Innovation as a noun vs. innovating as a verb
  • Why are middle managers so important for innovation and is this surprising to people? Not just the “genius leaders”
  • “Innovation ambassadors” – coaches working with the middle managers
  • If people think that Lean (and concepts like standardized work) stifle innovation, what's your response to that?
  • “The power of process” doesn't stifle innovation… leads to innovation?

The podcast is sponsored by Stiles Associates, now in their 30th year of business. They are the go-to Lean recruiting firm serving the manufacturing, private equity, and healthcare industries. Learn more.

This podcast is part of the #LeanCommunicators network


Automated Transcript (Not Guaranteed to be Defect Free)

Announcer (2s):
Welcome to the Lean Blog Podcast. Visit our website Now here's your host Mark Graban.

Mark Graban (13s):
Hi, it's Mark Graban. Welcome to episode 434 of the podcast is January 5th, 2022. I want to say happy new year. Hope your year is off to a good start. I want to thank again, our friends at Stiles associates for continuing to be our presenting sponsor and they're going to be doing so through 2022, please do check out their website, Today. We're going to have a conversation with Ben Bensaou You'll learn more about him. He's a professor at the INSEAD business school. He has a kind of interesting history with Jim Womack to the original research team, the coined the term lean.

Mark Graban (54s):
So we'll jog his memories about that a little bit. We're going to talk about his career and work and his most recent book called built to innovate. And you'll hear about the connections between lean practice and, you know, sort of the gray area, then that drifts from continuous improvement into innovation. I think you'll really enjoy hearing what he has to say. So for links and show notes and more, you can go to 434. Thanks for listening. Our guest today is Ben Bensaou. He is an INSEAD professor is author of a book Built to Innovate: Essential Practices to Wire Innovation Into Your Company's DNA.

Mark Graban (1m 36s):
So before I tell you a little bit more about Ben, let me first say welcome. Thank you for joining us.

Ben Bensaou (1m 42s):
Well, thank you, Mark. Thank you for having me. It's a

Mark Graban (1m 44s):
Pleasure and I do my best to speak Japanese. I should probably say Konichiwa or a

Ben Bensaou (1m 51s):
Absolutely. Yes, it's the morning for me. Absolutely.

Mark Graban (1m 56s):
You are. You're in Kobe. Japan is that so on sabbatical. And we're going to talk about Ben's earlier time and, and learning in Japan. But as far as Ben's formal education, he earned his PhD at the MIT Sloan school of management. He was part of Jim Womack's research team that studied the auto industry back then and was a part of that group coined the term lean or lean production. So we, we previously did an episode on the, my favorite mistake podcast and I thought it would be good to have Ben here to talk about not just innovation, but some of his recollections of those days, working with Jim Womack, who's been a guest here a number of times.

Mark Graban (2m 44s):
So, so Ben, maybe, you know, if you don't mind, we can start there. If you can tell us about how you got involved in those research efforts and your recollections of that.

Ben Bensaou (2m 54s):
Oh, that was a very, very natural, I mean, I guess transition for me because when I joined MIT, I joined MIT from Japan. So, I mean, without going into the long history, I was initially trained in France. I mean, I'm from France. So I was trained in France as, as an engineer Seville and mechanical engineer. And then I went to Japan on a scholarship rotary international scholarship, as a matter of fact. And, and then I, I studied, I was there supposed to be there for two years. So I stood to the language and then I, I shifted to study management.

Ben Bensaou (3m 34s):
Now this was, these were the heydays of, of, of, of Japan and Japanese economy. And everybody was telling me, you should spend your time trying to understand the Japanese management model. So I switched to, to, to management instead of management, science, operations research in Japan. And this is how I got involved even before going to MIT with Japanese manufacturing. Yeah. And then, and then of course, when I joined MIT, it was right there. I mean, there was, there was a very sophisticated, brilliant team of people looking at Japanese firms. I had spent by then five years in Japan actually was even married in Japan and, and spoke the language, had connections.

Ben Bensaou (4m 21s):
So that was like a no brainer. I was very, very exciting actually, to be able to continue that kind of work while doing my PhD.

Mark Graban (4m 32s):
So I imagine I may, or how large was that team? Were you the only person who had, had come directly out of this experience working in Japan?

Ben Bensaou (4m 42s):
No, no, no, no. There were quite a few people who were from Japan. Actually, there were even Japanese. I mean, people always, there was a can tell Nobel attack, not to name him from, he used to work from Augusta. There was she Gucci who came from, from Mosca, from Japan via the UK. So there was a, there was a very good mix. It was a, it was a very strong team and it actually it's span, it's span multiple kind of departments within, within, within MIT. It was not only, I mean, we were a few people from the manufacturer and from the management school, but there were some people from manufacturing, I mean, from our engineering as well. So no, no, there was a very, even some people from political science.

Ben Bensaou (5m 24s):
So there's a very kind of multidisciplinary team of people looking in the beginning at Japanese firms in general, Japanese management, and then focusing on the automotive industry in particular. Yeah.

Mark Graban (5m 38s):
And you know, a lot of this research was included in summarized and expanded upon in the book, the machine that changed the world. I might point listeners back to episode 19 that I did with Jim Womack. Well, over a decade ago, sort of looking back at the machine that, that changed the world, but what, from your memory, Ben, how was the research framed? Was there, what was our hypothesis going into it? Was it an open-ended question of comparing Japanese automakers to American automakers to European automakers or, you know, how, how was, what, what, what questions were really being investigated?

Ben Bensaou (6m 22s):
Well, I think, I mean, again, the, the, the, the, the recollection I have of it, it was, it, it was a very multidisciplinary team, not only in terms of the, the theoretical kind of interest that people had, but also in terms of a mixture of academics practitioners and, and of course students. So you, you, you, you had a general theme, which was really the interest in, in, in, in moving forward knowledge, but I mean, manufacturing in particular automotive, I mean, that was kind of the, the key, the key industry, even though some people kind of had interest also in aerospace and other other industries.

Ben Bensaou (7m 5s):
So that was really kind of the center. And then it kind of brought in people with different backgrounds. So you had people from the industry, you had people from academia. So some people were doing quite inductive work, really going visiting companies. And then of course the big pressure, like any university and MIT, for sure, the people who were on the academic track had, had had a very strong pressure to link this to some theoretical thinking and, and, and engage in very scientific type of research. And that's, that's, that's, I think in my mind, the secret of the, of the success of that initiative was that you really had an practical interest driven by people from the industry.

Ben Bensaou (7m 55s):
And of course, you know, sponsors, you had sponsors who were also kind of chipping in opening the doors to, to their sites, but also informing the questions that people were asking. But you had some very strong academics interested in, in, in, in moving the knowledge to the next stage who were there to make sure that the research had a very strong rigor. I think that was, that was really a secret of, of the, the, the whole initiative and, and why it had such an impact. I mean, it was really grounded in, in, in some theory, I mean, you had some economists social psychologists you had, of course, operation scientists, people involved in, in manufacturing, people in field, in HR.

Ben Bensaou (8m 45s):
So it was, you know, industrial relations. It was, it was really exciting, I think. Yeah.

Mark Graban (8m 52s):
So coming in from, from your experience coming into initiative, having spent time in Japan, how back then, how would you have described the Japanese management model and was it really that consistent across Japanese companies?

Ben Bensaou (9m 10s):
Oh, yes. I think it was a very consistent, and we might, we might get into that maybe later. I think the core of it is still there. It's still there and it has very deep roots. I mean, in the, in the, in the, in the history and the culture in the, you know, and dominant natural endowment of the, of the country, I mean, it is not just, you know, a random occurrence. I mean, it is really the result of how Japan, I mean, what is Japan and how Japanese society has evolved over time?

Ben Bensaou (9m 50s):
So, I mean, I think the key, the key here is really this, this, this notion that they are obsessed with the notion that they have very few resources, they are in an environment, which is very uncertain and predictable with. I mean, unfortunately, a lot of natural calamities, w w we know about the typhoons, the earthquakes. I mean, we just had an earthquake a couple of days ago here. So I think it creates psychology and culture where there's a very strong symbiosis with nature and, and, and, and, you know, being aware that you, you have to take care of those resources and, and they're kind of limited.

Ben Bensaou (10m 40s):
So there's, I think it, it, it explains it very much about the notion that they're careful about ways they're careful about, about time. They're careful about, I mean, the biggest resource they're careful about is human human capital. And that, that, that, I think in a sense feeds very nicely in, in what emerged in Japan. I mean, it's, it's, it's really an outgrowth of, of, of why Japan is, it's not a surprise to many people who have experienced Japan from inside that a lot of these ideas, which some were developed elsewhere, actually crystallized and were moved even beyond in Japan and not somewhere else.

Mark Graban (11m 30s):
So it seems like one of the challenges in adopting methods from Toyota or other Japanese country companies is when we're in a country that doesn't share those same mindsets. You know, the United States auto industry was born out of a time of abundance, but, you know, think of, you know, today, you know, the end of 2021, when you talk about this idea of making the most of, of human potential, I don't know how it is in Europe or Japan, but in the U S there's so much talk about labor shortages, a war for talent, the great resignation, however, that's framed.

Mark Graban (12m 13s):
I mean, it seems like there's this, this motivation now of not having enough human resources for, for our companies, is, is there a similar dynamic, do you think in Europe or Japan right now?

Ben Bensaou (12m 29s):
Absolutely. I think there's a very similar in Japan. It, it actually started a while a while ago and took a little bit of a different, different form in the sense that you, you had a whole generation who, during the reconstruction of Japan kind of sacrifice itself to create really the, the, the, the manufacturing, the economic power of Japan and the newer generation, which was born during the, the high gross, and the bubble times didn't have the same motivation of working for life, for instance, which was kind of one of the pillars of, of the, the Japanese management system.

Ben Bensaou (13m 10s):
So I think there was a lot of questioning of that, and I think there's, there's some sort of a convergence, I don't want to necessarily relate it to the, the, the, the, the climate movement, but there was a, there's a kind of a general, you know, movement towards, you know, being mindful of the resources, whether they are, they are human or natural or, or productive. So, and I think there's, there's, there's, there's a context that is becoming kind of general to everybody. And, and I think Japanese companies and Japanese society might have faced that naturally a bit earlier than the others.

Ben Bensaou (13m 54s):
And, and, and, and discovered that, I mean, again, taking into account a decision island country with very few resources and the context that I mentioned earlier, they, they realized that cooperation and, and relying on, on processes was, was, was the way the way forward. And, and that's, that's how they evolved all we know, and it became visible because of the success of the manufacturing sector, whether this is the automotive or the others, but it finds its true much deeper into Japanese society and every, every, every aspect of Japanese society and, and, and not, not always with glorious impacts.

Ben Bensaou (14m 41s):
I mean, sometimes there are dark side to it, but, but yes, I mean, I think a lot of people are pushed into context where it's getting closer and closer to what Japan knew for a long time. I mean the scarcity of resources and then to predict and predictability of the environment.

Mark Graban (15m 1s):
And so a lot of that, you know, unpredictability is a global situation these days for sure, but, you know, hopefully there's, there's more motivation whether it's manufacturing companies or healthcare organizations to help maximize people's potential and maybe, you know, there's, there's productivity benefits that quality benefits, but, you know, look at, you know, especially in healthcare, you know, there's so much waste and frustration even before the pandemic and there's an additional layer of exhaustion and fatigue and burnout, you know, to me, lean strategies are one way of, of helping counter that, of creating a better workplace that, that makes people less likely to quit or retire.

Mark Graban (15m 53s):
And I think there's a big role for that regardless of country. What are your thoughts?

Ben Bensaou (15m 58s):
Absolutely. And I think that coming back to, to, to, to, to pan and, and, and, and, and, and Y kind of developed, or, or fine tune the lead lean approach is really this, this, this notion that given their, their natural endowment, they had to really invested in a few things that they could, they could kind of refine. One definitely is, is people and the collaboration in people. So a lot of investment in, in people, in training, in the work of life, quality, a lot of investment in, in processes, in processes and in particular in collaborative processes and in technology, I mean, technology is something that they've, they've been investing in all along.

Ben Bensaou (16m 49s):
And, and you can see that a lot of the, the technological investment that you see now in Japan is very much there to support human capital, because, because of the scarcity of people, not only of people, because of the aging of the population, but also of talent, the fact that people are interested in different things now. So there's a, there's a clear investment in, in, in the, in the people. Yeah,

Mark Graban (17m 19s):
Yeah. Toyota literature for a long time, you know, through the Toyota way and Jeffrey liker and others has emphasized, yeah. Technology is supporting people and process as opposed to, you know, the old general motors mindset and maybe the rest of the big three was really focused on replacing people. Cause people were seen as a problem instead of as being partners. And, you know, so there there's a different Tesla today seems to be Elon Musk seems to be very focused on automating. It seems people out of the way, instead of a surprise with technology.

Mark Graban (18m 0s):
So there are still different mindsets and business strategies around how do we incorporate technology

Ben Bensaou (18m 8s):
Clearly? I mean, there's, there's a, again, there's a tradition which we can go back and link to the emergence of, of lean and a Japanese management system in telephone. And I was kind of already alluding to the fact that in spite of all the pressures they're getting, there's not that much being transformed in Japan in terms of the fundamentals. Clearly there's a sense that technology is there to support, you know, people, a lot of the, the automation or even today, a lot of the digitalization is they're really meant to be there to, to support people.

Ben Bensaou (18m 50s):
There's a very strong sense. Also, we haven't talked about it and it comes out of the whole structure of the Japanese economy, is this obsession with the customer as well. And, and, and, and the service to the customer. And this is something that, that pervades life in Japan, wherever you go. So I think this is, this is also another pillar of, of how Japan is thinking about this, this evolution, if you will.

Mark Graban (19m 23s):
So before, you know, talking more about innovation and the connections to lean in, in your book and all, I do have one other question, thinking back to your time, working with I'll call it the Womack Jones and ruse research group, not to ignore, not to ignore them, but coming out of that work, I mean, is, is there, you know, a concept or a takeaway from that research or the book that wasn't widely understood, but something that you wish business leaders or students would have taken away from that research that, that people might have missed.

Ben Bensaou (20m 5s):
It's not necessarily something that people might have missed, but, and again, maybe it's a, it's an unfair comment I'm going to make, but I've been, by the way, the, the, the research program is still continuing. So it's not like a, this is, this is, this is still a moving target. I mean, people are still doing research and, and, and, and, you know, and, and, and Toyota, and the others are still kind of, you know, innovating, moving. I mean, maybe at the, at the, at a much more strategic level, there's some interesting conversations to be, to be looked at, but what I think, and it's, I don't know how it would have been easy to capture this, but I think that what I see very often people, when they look at this kind of work, they, they, they, they look at the S the S the solution, what is w what can I do tomorrow differently?

Ben Bensaou (21m 2s):
And, and, and, and, and by the way, a lot of companies, I mean, in Europe, in the U S have embraced a lot of went was, you know, discovered during that research. But I think what is really difficult is to understand that it's, it's a mindset. It's, it's something much more, much more deeper. It's not just a question of your few tools and techniques and a few gimmicks that you can apply sacrificially here and there I, again, I understand that there are some cultural underpinnings to all this, but that doesn't mean that they're not like some, some equivalents in, in, in our cultures.

Ben Bensaou (21m 44s):
I mean, I can, I can take the example that I worked on. I mean, within that group, I was just was, there was a lady called Susan helper, and actually , we kind of looked more precisely to supplier relationships, buyer, supplier relationships in the automotive industry. And one thing that came out quite strong looking at Japanese firms is the importance, especially with the first tier suppliers, the importance of building trust. Now, when you think about a concept like trust, and you say, oh, okay, now this is the way the Japanese do it. I mean, you know, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's deeply culturally bound, but that doesn't mean there's not a structural equivalence to trust in, let's say in the U S market.

Ben Bensaou (22m 28s):
Maybe there are some legal underpinnings to it, but, but you may build trust differently, but it doesn't take away the importance of trust in relationships and how you build it. So I think that's where I think, and maybe the, the research we continue in that is, is to try to go to the, to the, to the core essence of, of, of, of the lean model and understand what is the state of mind, and actually try to do to work on the embedding the state of mind, rather than focusing on the, I don't want to call them gimmicks because they are not, they are very important techniques and tools, but, but what is underneath those tools, I think is also important to embed in the, in, in, in the collective consciousness of people.

Mark Graban (23m 16s):
Oh, thanks for that. And that makes me wonder, is there a similarity when it comes to innovation, if we look at what companies that are successful innovators, how much of that is a matter of mindset versus tools, techniques, or gimmicks?

Ben Bensaou (23m 30s):
Absolutely. I would, I would totally agree with your assessment. I think that, that, I think in terms of the mindset, I mean, it sounds really tried, but I think that if you can internalize the, the notion that everybody's job, I mean, innovation is everybody's job. I mean, it sounds very, very primitive statement, but I think it's a, again, if it's people and internalize it as a, as a, as a mindset, number one is innovation is everyone's job. And second innovation can happen anywhere in the organization. And, and I've, I've been, I've been kind of working with companies for about 20 years now, training and coaching a different organization, helping them develop a culture of innovation.

Ben Bensaou (24m 16s):
And what I, I find still is that there's this, again, mindset, this, I don't want to call it a culture, but this feeling that innovation, when we talk about innovation, it's about a brand new blockbuster product, or, or it's about coming up with a new business model. I also find many people who, who think that you need a genius leader or, or you need to be a startup to innovate. And again, what I found, and it's not just Japanese companies, but I found that established even a century old companies can innovate now, how do they do this again?

Ben Bensaou (24m 58s):
They don't focus only on huge industry changing effects, but just like in the spirit of lean, they can find, you know, small and important changes very often in unexpected places and what they do. And this kind of the link with lean as well is that they rely on continuous innovation, innovation of every kind and driven by everyone in the orange. And this is where I really thought that what I had seen in these innovative companies that I followed around the world is that this was somewhat of an extension of what we were talking about, about lean this, this, this obsession with the collective capability, the obsession with it's almost like after, after cost control, you do quality, then you move to lead.

Ben Bensaou (25m 55s):
And then the next step is really, again, driven by the customer obsession, going to innovation, because innovation is simply again, being obsessed with the customer, but with the mindset of looking for new ideas, not simply improving existing processes.

Mark Graban (26m 13s):
Yeah. I mean, when you talk about innovation is everybody's job, that's an extension of, you know, this idea that continuous improvement is everybody's job. If, you know, I always add the, if, if there's a culture that makes that possible. Cause if somebody listening to this were to say, well, okay, in theory, continuous improvement and innovation can happen everywhere. I don't see it because I'm just told to show up and keep my mouth shot and do my job and do it the way I was taught. And they never asked me what think, well, not that that doesn't describe a culture of improvement or a culture of innovation, right?

Ben Bensaou (26m 51s):
Again, this is very powerful what you're saying, mark, because I think this was also a little bit of what happened in the beginning, the hiccups people, when people try to implement Japanese management approach, I mean, they, they, they, they took the outer layer. I call the outer layer of the onion, which was the artifacts that techniques, that tricks, if you want to call them, you know, of, of, of the Japanese management system, but it's not realize that it was the fundamental was trust in people. The fundamental was, was, you know, relying on, on people. I was really, the foundation was a participatory type of engagement with people.

Ben Bensaou (27m 36s):
And I think you're the same thing. When, when, when I mean innovation being everybody's job. Well, the, the, the key thing is that it has, I mean, senior management and middle management has to give people permission to innovate. I mean, you can just kind of say to people, okay, I want you to innovate, but you're not supposed to there's there's there's so you have to create a, as you say, a culture and environment where people feel that they have the permission to innovate. In fact, I would say that people need three things to be able to innovate. One is the need to feel that they are able to do it, which is that they are allowed that they have permission.

Ben Bensaou (28m 20s):
It is not only the job of the senior leaders or the R and D department, but anybody is recognized and it's almost encouraged and expected to innovate. And it can be within the sphere of their own job. Second people need to feel that they are capable. I mean, how many times I hear people when we start a program on innovation period, people tell me, oh, I'm not a creative type. I don't, I don't know how to do it. This is, we have people who specialize in this. So my job, as you say, you know, he's to come show up and do whatever I'm supposed to do. And this is what, what I call the execution engine.

Ben Bensaou (29m 0s):
So when people need to be, need to be trained, they need to be given the tools. They need to be given time and space to innovate. And it, again, I can give example, it doesn't take a lot for people to start a habit of getting involved in any kind of innovating activity. And it can be simply spending time with a customer observing what's going on. You know, it's a different mindset. And then thirdly, people need to be, to feel motivated to innovate. So this is where middle management is, is, is very key in, in giving them, I mean, first senior people to inspire them about innovation, then people giving them autonomy challenges, recognizing them when they come up with new ideas.

Ben Bensaou (29m 53s):
Again, it's one thing to say, oh, innovation is everybody's job. Nobody's going to argue with that one, but it is important to create an atmosphere, a culture. And by the way, this is what the bill to innovate. The book is about, is about how do you embed this notion of continuous innovation using a very systematic approach? Again, one thing I learned from lean is about processes tools and making things systematic and repeatable.

Mark Graban (30m 27s):
So, so to that point about systematic and repeatable can innovation in a company be made systematic and repeatable. Is there a process for innovation, as opposed to just sort of like the magical light bulb going off apifany innovation?

Ben Bensaou (30m 46s):
Again, my opening by saying that in a lot of companies, people think that innovation is about the genius moment is about the epiphany is about, and it, it, and by the way, it's usually associated with the genius founder. And this is why, by the way, I mean, it's a, it's a small distinction I make. And I explain to people, I make a distinction between the word innovation as a noun and the verb innovating or to innovate as a verb. And, and, and it came to me just kind of observing the, the attitude of people and the feeling of people.

Ben Bensaou (31m 32s):
When I, when I, when I talk about innovation and I know it is that every time I use the word innovation, I find that it's quite intimidating. People are, there's a sense of anxiety and fear. When you talk about innovation and I was wondering, what's going on? Why are people so afraid of innovation? Why is it so intimidating? And one hypothesis is that very often people associate the word innovation, the noun with a product or service, but, but very often was an outcome, an outcome that they think they expected to deliver. So if they go to an innovation training, they have this kind of feeling that when they come back, they expect expected to deliver the next product or the, but, but, but I noticed that if I use, I mean, it also happened by chance, but when you use innovating or you say, oh, we are here to learn how to innovate.

Ben Bensaou (32m 30s):
There's a big difference saying we're going to learn innovation and we're going to learn how to innovate. And when you say we're going to learn how to innovate people immediately, that this is about a process, right? It's a verb. It's about to innovate. It's about actions. It's about activity. It's about behaviors. And notice that when you talk about action activities, this is something that you can learn a behavior. You can have incentives, you can, you can encourage people and, and suddenly it makes a big difference. So I think, how do you create a culture of, of innovation if you want, is, is by building this, this habit where people get involved in activities.

Ben Bensaou (33m 15s):
I mean, just if you allow me mark that, there's a, there's a non, an analogy which sometimes works sometimes doesn't work, but I, I use the analogy of the, the iceberg. And when people talk about the innovation, as a matter of fact, what is meant by that is the tip of the iceberg, which is, you know, the iPhone, which is the ATM ATM machine. This is a new business model. This is, this is an outcome. This is a result. So this is a tip of the iceberg. But what we don't see below the iceberg is effectively innovating is the innovating capabilities.

Ben Bensaou (33m 55s):
And, and, and th this is, this is what a bill to innovate is about, is about how do you build through processes through a systematic approach? How do you build the collective innovating capabilities of everybody in the organization? And then through just like lean through this repeated process where people will come up with ideas. So people tell me, oh, well, but this is, this is about continuous innovation. Well, you know, this is about small improvement. Well, again, my, my, my, my only reaction is that when do you know that a new idea is going to be a small improvement or a disruptive new idea?

Ben Bensaou (34m 39s):
We don't know until it is implemented. So for me, this is why the power of continuous innovation, and by the way, to be sure not taking anything away from the, the genius leaders thinking the problem is that there is a problem of, of numbers. We don't want to have as many geniuses out there as we wish. So what I'm saying is that, you know, if you work in an organization and on top of it, if you, if you, if you don't have a genius in the company, what do you do? So you have to build an innovating engine in spite of the fact that you don't have a genius in the company.

Ben Bensaou (35m 23s):
And that's really what a, what a bill to innovate is about. Of course, I'm telling people, if you have genius leader, if you have a brilliant R and D people, please, please, please, you know, worship them. I don't know. I take care of them, but there's a huge, lost opportunity of innovation gains by leveraging the capability of everybody. And by the way, again, if you make the little switch in mind that innovation is not only about the product, but you have innovation on the shop floor, you have innovation in HR, you have innovation in legal, you have innovation of every sort in the organization.

Ben Bensaou (36m 7s):

Mark Graban (36m 8s):
When you talk then about that innovation engine, I don't, one thing you talk about in the book is the role of middle managers, not just the genius leader or the CEO or the, what, what is that role of the middle manager?

Ben Bensaou (36m 22s):
I think, well, just to kind of put it into context, I, I found that to build an innovating engine, which in MINDBODY is a very concrete organization. It's, it's a protected space, fully legitimized within the organization. Where, as I mentioned before, you can innovate. Anybody can innovate. You can innovate in everything you do. And innovating is, is, is a, is a habit. You need a very formal structure. And there, what I discovered is that everybody has a contribution to make senior leaders are important.

Ben Bensaou (37m 5s):
Middle managers. I discovered I don't do innovation. Innovation is lost without them. And they are very often overlooked. And then of course, the frontline are the ones who are going to generate a lot of the ideas because they are the ones who are on a daily basis, working with customers. And non-customers so middle managers are very, very important because they are the ones who need to number one, give the permission. Of course, senior leaders are the ones who have to give first the permission, but the other ones who give the permission to their teams to innovate are the ones who can create the, the time and space for people to do it.

Ben Bensaou (37m 49s):
They're the ones who can send their teams to, to training. Not not that the middle managers would be the ones who would train their people, but I actually, I will, I will maybe talk about an example of how this was done in a, in a, in a company that I followed. And of course they are the ones who have to, we know, and, and, and select, and, and channel the ideas that come from the frontline through what we know the stage gate process, until these ideas get selected, some get tested piloted, and some will go to the execution engine.

Ben Bensaou (38m 32s):
Again, maybe an ex an example. And you can, you can ask me from the example, I mean, one example I mentioned in the book is, is Bayer the, the global pharmacology and life sciences company based in Germany. So mind you, this is a company, as I'm sure most people will know was it was, it was a long history of scientific achievements and, and brilliance in R and D. And yet in 2014, they decided to, from scratch, they decided to build an innovating engine and to enlist and leverage the capabilities of the hundred thousand employees working in the company.

Ben Bensaou (39m 24s):
So the first thing they did is they made the whole board responsible for innovation. Then they selected 80 senior managers from across all country regions and global functions to support the board as they call them innovation ambassadors. Now, these ambassadors spend most of that time with middle managers, explaining innovation, getting them trained, supporting, sponsoring innovation, and a key to their success is that they built for this to support these middle managers.

Ben Bensaou (40m 8s):
They created a formidable, formidable support structure. They, I think it was between 2016 and 2020. They trained and certified a thousand innovation coaches, which were activated locally across the whole organization. So now you can see that a middle manager who believes in innovation doesn't have to doesn't have the resources to train people and to, to follow projects, but they have this formidable central resource where they can just call on local codes to come and train and support an individual in their team or a project in their team.

Ben Bensaou (40m 55s):
And, and they just have to make sure that people have the permission and they have the political protection to be able to follow their ideas. So this is where the middle management very important. And then just to finish the story about Bayer, what they did for the frontline people, they created a space where everybody could get involved. So they created a, what they call we solve. It is a digital platform where any employee within Bayer can post information about a problem they're struggling with and invite ideas and insights from anybody else in, across the company.

Ben Bensaou (41m 38s):
And this has been a tremendous success at any given time. I think they have about 200 challenges posted on the, on the platform. I mean, it can be as simple as a frontline worker in his pain, looking for ideas about how to help farmers, you know, regulate their pesticide in input or Indian manager, looking for ideas for brand name, for a new product, 40,000 people have participated in this, in this platform. And actually just to give 40,000, I should tell you, they told me that only 50,000 people within the whole company speak English and the, the, the, the, the website is in English.

Ben Bensaou (42m 25s):
So this is a huge participation rate, but what really impressed me the most, looking at the statistics is that out of the challenges you, that scent, and then people submit ideas and out of the best ideas to third of the best ideas come from a department or a function different from the one where the initial challenge was sent. Interesting. So this is very interesting and it kind of, again, shows how they're leveraging the innovating capabilities from across the whole company. So, so for me, this was, this is a very good example of how they systematically starting in 2014, systematically built an innovating engine where everybody is involved and where you can see the middle managers are really the key, because they are the ones who are, you know, you know, we know Ingle, the idea is they are giving the permission.

Ben Bensaou (43m 25s):
Now they have a support structure. That's very important. And this is another very important component of an innovating engine in my mind.

Mark Graban (43m 33s):
So it speaks w what you're saying there speaks to the power of cross-functional collaboration breaking down silos. Absolutely. Yeah. So as we're, we're a little short on time, but maybe one other question for you, you know, if people think, I think sometimes this is a misunderstanding about lean, especially when we talk about standardization or standard work. Sometimes people pose the idea that lean stifles innovation. What, what's your response to that? I'm guessing you would disagree with that statement, but I'll ask you to elaborate.

Ben Bensaou (44m 7s):
I, I, I guess, I guess what, what I like in a sense in lean and a, and what brought clean, and again, the extension that I'm proposing with was built to innovate is the power of process. I mean, having a process, even it's standard process, this is not necessarily stifle innovation. It just, it just kind of first legitimizes, whatever you're doing. So in this case, if you, if you, if you give people tools and a process to innovate, it's, it's a way to legitimize innovation.

Ben Bensaou (44m 51s):
It provides people with a language to talk about innovation, what they're doing, and, and a process is just for me, the same way as tools. I equate them to a checklist, which is just a checklist. What you do inside the tech list can be, you know, open to, to, to, to the context, to open to what, what is happening there. And I think this is, this is lean is the same. It's really about having a structure, a set of checklist that you follow, but you have to make decisions at each step.

Ben Bensaou (45m 33s):
And that, that requires initiative, that requires innovation, creativity. So for me, P P P people equate the notion that because you have a, a process that guys structures, you're thinking I'm in a process is a way to structure the thinking. What comes out of the thinking can be very innovative, can be very revolutionary, but at least it creates a structure that can be full of people. The other thing also, I would say is that, of course, I'm not talking about the, the, the people who are naturally innovative or very creative, even though I could argue, but I'm not a brain scientist that they might follow a structure in their mind, which they don't are not conscious about.

Ben Bensaou (46m 24s):
But if you, if you try to train people to become innovative, you, you might want to give them a few tools, a few structures to start with to build the muscle. And then once they, they have internalized some of the key structures, and these are very general structures. I mean, we're talking about looking at your customer, listening to, you know, what I call the silence of the customer, looking at non-customers and the process give you structures about where to find them. Then once you have mastered that, then it becomes second nature, and then you can free yourself from the structure.

Ben Bensaou (47m 7s):
So, for me, it's just like anybody trying to learn a new skill, whether this is learning piano, or going to the gym to strengthen your physical muscles, you need some equipment, you need some structure to start with, but once you have established a certain level of competency or fluency or creativity, then you don't need the tool anymore. You can just, you, you can free yourself, but because you have internalized, I loved a lot of the toolkit. You have internalized the process. So I think it's the same for lean is the same for, for innovation and the same for a lot of skills that you need to first follow a structure.

Ben Bensaou (47m 49s):
Like, you know, I'm sure, I mean, I'm not, I'm not a musician, but I'm sure in the beginning, a lot of musicians hate to do the, the scales, you know? And, but, but once you have mastered that, then you can free yourself of it.

Mark Graban (48m 4s):
And as I I've, I played the drums. I'm a percussionist, there's an old joke in music circles, where I would say, I'm not a musician, I'm a drummer, which is an unfair thing to say, but that's the joke. But yeah, when you learned to play drums, there are what, what they call the rudiments playing scales. And I think when I was a child learning these rudiments, I didn't understand the word, but now when you think, okay, rudimental rudimentary, that's a foundation for getting to do all the cool stuff with the drums.

Ben Bensaou (48m 35s):
Absolutely. And this is actually, I like the way you put it, because I think this is what I'm talking about. And what bill to innovate is about in trying to embed continuous innovation is to actually trust people, trust their creativity and say, why don't we give them the rudiments? Why don't we teach them the scales and then give them permission to jam sometimes once in a while, and maybe something will come out of it, maybe not, but it is the power of the numbers, right? Instead of having only innovation coming from the senior leaders and a few geniuses in the company, you leverage the capability of everyone.

Ben Bensaou (49m 16s):
Now, they ha they're, they're, they're a bit better than without the training. They have rudiments, they know the scales, they have a language to speak about this. You create space for them. And by the way, they have the availability, they are the ones who are facing the customers and the customers. They have the information, they have the data and, and, and then, and then that builds up. So you have the, you have the number. If they do it as a habit, you have the frequency. And if you do it in every department, you have also innovation coming from everywhere. And I think it's a, it's, it's a law of the big numbers. You, you, you, if you, if you do this, you're, you're everything else being equal.

Ben Bensaou (49m 56s):
You're more likely to get new ideas, some big, some small, then if you just rely on, on the genius leader, that's, that's, that's kind of the logic there. Yeah.

Mark Graban (50m 8s):
Yeah. And the final thing I would add in one of my visits to Japan, there was a Japanese hospital CEO of physician who knew Lean. GE had tried teaching him six Sigma and he liked lean and TPS better, but that's that story for different day, but his, his main insight, and this was really, he said the best way to find a big idea is to look for many, many small ideas. Absolutely, absolutely. We, a lot of times we obsess on looking for just the big, magical epiphany moments. And I appreciate the way you emphasize process and structure and culture as a way to be, to be innovative.

Ben Bensaou (50m 50s):
And also I discovered it very often. I mean, some of the big ideas are actually a conglomerate or a connection of a lot of small ideas. I mean, there's no big idea. That's long. I mean, even at the implementation, the idea can be big, but to implement it, you need a lot of small innovations in other parts of the organization. And sometimes of your suppliers, I discovered that some of the big innovation wouldn't be possible without the innovation being also at the supply.

Mark Graban (51m 20s):
Well, then I have, I have to run, but I appreciate you being a guest and sharing, you know, some of your insights and your research and your teaching with us today and how that's culminated in the book available. Now, it was released in September, Built to Innovate: Essential Practices to Wire Innovation Into Your Company's DNA. Ben Bensaou again has been our guest. Thank you. It's been a real pleasure to talk to you both times now on

Ben Bensaou (51m 44s):
Thank you. Thank you. My pleasure. And back to memory is actually also,

Mark Graban (51m 50s):
All right, we'll get half your job as memories are got to go through this.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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