Lewis Carroll, in his book, Through the Looking Glass, has Humpty Dumpty smugly intone, ‘Whenever I use a word it means exactly what I choose it to mean, nothing more and nothing less.’ Such seems to be the case whenever the topics of improvement and innovation are discussed.
Improvement means whatever the one who wants it to happen wants it to mean. It could mean doing what’s being done now to a greater degree of efficiency or speed or detail. In other words, ‘do what you’re doing now ‘only better.’ It could also mean that something else altogether needs to be done instead of or in addition to what’s being done now. In any case, improvement is closely associated with measurable outcomes that can be compared with previous outcomes to determine degrees of organizational and/or personal development or deterioration.
The means of accomplishing any outcome is called process. It is commonly thought that organizational outcomes are inextricably interwoven with the processes that produce them. Poor processes cause poor outcomes, powerful processes cause powerful outcomes, and so on. As the process goes, so goes the outcome. With this reasoning, all one would have to do to improve the outcome is to improve the process in some way. Although this approach can work, it often takes a long time and gives up as much as it gains in process efficiencies, workplace morale and worker commitment to fully implementing process changes.
This mechanistic view of improvement has been a long time in development. Culturally accepted notions about human nature and behavior have contributed strongly to the idea that improvement in life’s outcomes is causally effected by process ‘ more particularly, the right process. If an outcome is not what is wanted or expected it means that the right process has yet to be discovered. Through persistent and diligent effort, eventually the correct process will be found and the consequent outcomes achieved.
Many readers will be aware of the ‘hierarchy of needs’ (figure 1) developed by the psychologist, Abraham Maslow. In it, Maslow identified what he saw as the incremental needs-based structure of human existence and fulfillment. It began at the bottom with primal needs such as water, air and other Px7 primal flow survival requirements and moved up to the top which he called, ‘synergy,’ or the need to have things working well in all areas of life. Maslow’s model did not allow for skipping a step in the quest for experiencing deeper levels of humanness. For example, one couldn’t go to the third level without having the first two fulfilled and predictably secured, and so on up the ladder. For Maslow, there was a correct process through which an individual had to go in order to grow and experience greater dimensions of human fulfillment.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs
The upper needs (Esteem, Self-Actualization and Synergy) are more complex, less immediate and therefore ‘weaker’ in their demands on psychic and emotional energy.
The lower needs (Belongingness/Love, Safety and Survival) are less complex, more immediate and therefore ‘stronger’ in their demands on psychic and emotional energy.
Synergy: the need to have things working well in all areas of life