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Hybridization - Innovation Should Be Integrated

By Michael S. Slocum

Innovation competencies should not be practiced as stand-alone methodologies. Just as incremental learning needs to be integrated with a prior knowledge base, innovation competencies need to be integrated with other competencies in an organization. New information needs to be integrated consistently to increase the performance capability of the system and create hybrid-learning models.

Integration of data is a key learning technique and should be practiced regularly. This is mirrored in a Theory of Inventive Solving (TRIZ) pattern of evolution called mono-bi-poly. This pattern indicates the tendency of systems to increase the number of functions over time, both homogeneous and heterogeneous.

Another way to describe this pattern is as increased complexity, then simplification – systems add functions that at first increase complexity but then collapse into simpler systems providing the same or more functionality. For example, cameras became more complex when focusing and flashes were added. But later, these functions were integrated and automated into systems that provided multi-functional capability.

At one time pizza parlors decided to deliver, so functions were added – taking orders, transcribing addresses and dispatching drivers. Increased complexity provided greater functionality. Most pizza places now use an automated system that recognizes phone numbers, displays addresses and identifies recent orders. Increased complexity collapsed into greater simplicity. The key is to predict when and how to facilitate this in an organization.

Modern examples are found in every industry as businesses profit and invest, as technology converges and options diverge within converged global standards. Sometimes waves of innovation combine to create a synthesized manifestation of technologies, and the new hybrid becomes the new standard. An example is the videophone. A cell phone without video capability was the baseline, but now, if a phone does not have a camera, it is inferior.

Once it was the baseline to implement a total quality management (TQM) style quality program, a leading-edge deployment strategy like just-in-time or quality function deployment (QFD), or to design a management system with hierarchically cascaded objectives, a system of metrics and regular review cycles. As these methodologies evolved practitioners added new capabilities and functions, and the set of intellectual property and know-how grew and multiplied.

When managing performance excellence, added features and functionality increase complexity for the producer and the consumer. Eventually complexity gives way to more simplicity as engineers integrate systems and designs for more simplistic manufacturing and use by consumers. Because of changes like these today’s printer is better than the more expensive and inferior printer from ten years ago.

Hybridization From a TRIZ Perspective
Within TRIZ, another way of looking at increasing complexity then simplicity is in terms of hybridization. As a system gains functionality and complexity, it splinters into more and different parts. Over time the added functionality collapses or hybridizes back into a simpler design. This happens in manufacturing as systems add part counts while increasing functionality and then reduce counts as designs are simplified to provide the same functionality.

Initially a pencil was just a piece of wood with a length of black lead. In the language of TRIZ, this simple writing system is a “homogeneous mono-system.” Then someone added an eraser and the pencil transformed from a homogeneous mono-system to a “heterogeneous bi-system.” That is, the pencil performed two different functions, writing and erasing, within the same system. Then mechanical pencils incorporated different colors of lead using the same instrument. In TRIZ language the pencil with the eraser became a “heterogeneous poly-system.” It performed more than one function by adding more parts and complexity.

Today, there is a multi-colored lead pencil that collapses the colors back into one length of lead, which, depending on the angle it is held, will write different colors. With this advancement, the pencil is a new heterogeneous mono-system that writes all the different colors with nearly the simplicity of writing with one color, while still providing the eraser.

The pencil is a simple illustration of how systems evolve toward increasing complexity and added functionality, and then toward increasing simplicity without losing function. The evolutionary principle of hybridization is universal and has been repeatedly validated. Manufacturers take the better of one system or technology and mix it with the best of another to improve the system. Another example of hybridization is the work of biologists who engineer the best properties of one system into the best properties of another, while simultaneously canceling the drawbacks of each – crossbreeding two different plant seeds, one seed from a dry climates and one from a cold climate. Although neither seed could live in a cold, dry place, the hybrid can.

Because of intentional hybridization, the plant is more robust to temperature and moisture. Why can’t the seed grow in more than one climate? Why can’t the pencil write in blue and green and not just black? Why can’t the principles and practices of quality control be applied outside of manufacturing?

Evolution of Quality Programs
Through evolution, statistical quality control (SQC) expanded and diversified into all departments and functions of an organization, until it became total quality control (TQC). The homogeneous mono-system (SQC) became a homogeneous poly-system (TQC) as it expanded the function of quality improvement and control throughout an organization. Around this same time when the industrial economy was growing rapidly across the globe, others were developing many other aspects of the underpinnings of business success.

In Japan in the 1950s, the forefathers of Lean manufacturing were pioneering the methods of flow, waste reduction, inventory control and operational speed. In Russia, a team of engineers was developing the empirical basis for product, process and organizational innovation. Also in Japan, others were developing Hoshin Kanri methods, which quantitatively connect the functions and processes of an organization around strategic priorities.

During the 1970s-90s, certain management tools collapsed into themselves and formed simpler, more integrated versions of formerly fragmented systems. With TQM the tools of SQC were packaged together for ease of deployment and application into a set of standards known as the Baldridge criteria – the defining time when TQM became a tool itself, a homogeneous poly-system that reduced defects and variation and improved the quality of products and services focused on customer needs.

Still later, the components of TQM were dovetailed with other systems and practices, such as the balanced scorecard. Around this time Motorola began driving a methodology called Six Sigma, which had its beginnings as a hammer for pounding the nails of product quality to the point of no more than 3.4 million defects per million opportunities for defects at the quality characteristic level.

After some evolutionary momentum, Six Sigma extended its data-driven reach to focus on creating significant financial return, first in the form of cost reductions born of process improvements, and later in the form of growth by its application in sales and marketing. In addition, Six Sigma injected the agenda of quality into the executive level of corporations, materializing TQM’s former lip service to top management involvement.

With a connected system of performance metrics, hard accountability at the executive level, top- and bottom-line impact and large-scale deployment, Six Sigma achieved the dream of TQM and became the world-class mono system for performance capability.

But for all this, Six Sigma is still an extension of the quality movement, with new functionality first made more complex but now made simpler and more commoditized through programmed deployment designs, e-learning and other software aides and technologies. The evolutionary trend of “complex to simple” was augmented with the evolutionary trend of “decreased human involvement,” another TRIZ tenet, and now includes a culture where Six Sigma can be implemented with less effort and greater return on investment than ever before.

This pattern can be applied to an integrated learning model challenge. As new information is acquired it needs to be incorporated with our past beliefs and understandings to create a hybrid state. This cycle continues as knowledge grows – the old is compensated with the new and the result is greater than it otherwise would be. These evolutions will continue to be seen in the world of systematic innovation.

About the Author:
Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D., is the principal and chief executive officer of The Inventioneering Company. Contact Michael S. Slocum at michael (at) or visit