Productive Friction and Diversity ... the pillars of innovation ... or: How to NOT build faster horses!

2017-06-12 Software-Engineering Management Culture

In the week of Jul., 10th we are going to do our next Hackweek.

The concept is not new. A lot of companies do it.

Dilbert on Hackweek

The question is: Why is it valuable?

For me the answer is: Because you want to make sure you are not building faster horses!

Henry Ford once famously said (or not said :)): “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Means … one of the key responsibilities of an engineering/technology organization in a product company is to complement the view on what the customer wants with a view on what is possible (always and only listening to the customer can create a huge blind-spot).


For that view (the view on what is possible) to develop you need environments that allow people to think out of the box. These environments do not just materialize themselves out of thin air. They need to be created. They need to be crafted. These environments need to be creative (creating a lot of mutations; innovation is the Darwinism of/for ideas). And they need to have a strong filter (kill ideas early and fast; a strong selection function). You need productive friction. And if you get everything right then you create a high probability that one of your crazy ideas will be validated by the market as being truly innovative.

DCoC - Darwinism

And that is the reason why we are doing Hackweeks. We want to create head-space that will allow us to build cars (or in our case smarter documents).

But that is not all of it. After you have the environment you need to fill it with enough ideas. With enough heterogeneous ideas. With enough ideas that a different. For that to happen you need people that are different. Being different needs to become the new normal. This is where diversity comes in. Homogeneous teams will never be as productive and as innovative as heterogeneous teams. And obviously one very important aspect of diversity (especially in software engineering organizations) is gender diversity, but there is more: cultural/geographical diversity (US/EMEA/APAC), education (degree in English, degree in Computer Science), personalities (introverts/extroverts), …

DCoC - Diversity

Being innovative is challenging. But it can happen. Let’s make it happen :).