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Improvement Today


The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book that Will Change the Way You Do Business


Many innovators are surprised to find that their innovations are not adopted within their organization. In fact there are lots of examples where the invention is actually adopted and mass produced by others outside the organization. Christensen provides several case examples to explain why this happens within an organization. This book is a must read for those who are responsible for getting innovations adopted within an organization. Christensen presents us with a paradox in that staying close to our current customers can stifle our attempts at innovation and acquiring new customers.  Christensen makes the point that if you want to study genetics, study fruit flies. They have a short life cycle. If you want to understand the cycle of innovation, then look at the history of the hard disk industry. The life cycle is also short and the author builds his thesis around this industry. Christensen then explores how his ideas apply in other industries and businesses.

Wicked Problems and Social Complexity

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Dr. Jeff Conklin provides some insight into the use of linear models for problem solving and the inevitable interaction with social forces within the organization. Many of us have been taught one or more problem solving models in our careers. Conklin uses some research that was done at MCC in the early 1980’s to show how people actually progressed on a path of improvement that was in fact counter to the linear model of gather data, analyze data, formulate a solution and implement the solution. This article is most useful for those who are leading improvement efforts to prepare a group for the path of learning that will take place regardless of the desired path of the linear model. The author also defines and contrasts the idea of a wicked problem and that of a tame problem and the applicability of the linear model to tame problems. Unfortunately, most of us are confronted with wicked problems.

Diffusion of Innovations, 5th Edition

Why do good new ideas take so long to be widely implemented in an industry? This book is considered a classic in the area of the spread of innovation. First published in 1962, this fourth edition updates recent research in this area. Rogers uses many historical examples to help the reader appreciate why spreading innovation can be so difficult and take so long. Diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels, over time, among members of a social system. The book provides a theoretical framework to study the spread of innovation and uses this framework to assimilate the research in this area. Concepts such as re-invention during implementation, adopter categories, and change agents are developed in Roger's model. The Agricultural Extension Service is presented as a successful model for
spreading innovation that eventually evolved into a different organization.

Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century


The Institute of Medicine's Committee on Quality of Health Care in America has issued its second report, Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century. The committee's first report, To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System (Editors: Janet M. Corrigan, Molla S. Donaldson and Linda T. Kohn) Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, was released in 1999. This report created an enormous amount of media attention with its estimate of 44,000 to 98,000 deaths annually due to errors in hospital care. This second report outlines what must be done to the current system in order to close the gap (the Chasm) between what we know in Healthcare and what is actually practiced. From this report, six specific aims for improvement have been identified; 1) Safety, 2) Effectiveness, 3) Patient Centered Care, 4) Timeliness, 5) Efficiency, and 6)Equitable care. It is hoped that by addressing these aims as well as other recommendations in the book that the US Healthcare system can be redesigned to more effectively accomplish its mission of providing quality care.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference


The Tipping Point written by Malcolm Gladwell, a former business and science writer for the Washington Post and currently a writer for The New Yorker, explores how "little things can make a big difference." Using examples from teen smoking to Sesame Street to crime in New York to suicide in Micronesia, Gladwell describes the features of what he calls social epidemics-instances where an idea, action, or product suddenly takes off and becomes wildly popular. He describes three rules that drive spread: (1) the Law of the Few; (2) the Stickiness Factor; and (3) the Power of Context.

The Improvement Guide: A Practical Approach to Enhancing Organizational Performance


This book is for people who want to make improvements. It can be viewed as a survival guide for people who realize the importance improvement plays in keeping an enterprise viable. The book describes a system of improvement. The foundation of this system is the Model for Improvement, based on the three fundamental questions:

  1. What are we trying to accomplish?

  2. How will we know that a change is an improvement?

  3. What changes can we make that will result in improvement?


Any effort to improve something should result in answers to these questions. The answers could be obtained in a variety of ways, depending on the complexity of the situation. The book, which focuses on developing, testing, and implementing, is structured in three parts, plus an appendix: Part 1: Basic Methods for Improvement introduces the Model for Improvement and some of the skills needed to use the Model. Part 2: Methods to Improve Systems is concerned with the core of the science and art of improvement: developing, testing, and implementing changes. Part 3: An Integrated Approach to Improvement discusses the implications for leaders of the science and art of improvement. The appendix, Change Concepts, contains a collection of ideas for improvement and applications.

Creating a New Civilization: The Politics of the Third Wave


This recent book by the Tofflers summarizes the work of Future Shock, Third Wave and Powershift, with some new work that updates the Tofflers ideas of the challenges facing our society as we transform from the age of mass production (2nd wave) to the information age (3rd wave). There is an extensive forward by ex-Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, who has been a student of the Tofflers for the last 20 years.

Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will


This book describes the major events that have taken place in General Electric since 1981, when Jack Welch assumed a leadership role. The book provides a good study of an organization undergoing change into today's business environment. The story emphasizes the importance of a vision, not just programs for change. Welch had six rules that guided the changes:

  1. Control your own destiny, or someone else will;

  2. Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it were;

  3. Be candid with everyone;

  4. Don't manage, lead;

  5. Change before you have to; and

  6. If you don't have a competitive advantage, don't compete.


In 1989, Welch started an effort called "Work-Out" that brings employees at all levels of an organizational unit together to air complaints and make suggestions. Managers are required to take action on key issues raised in the sessions. The appendix to the book contains a "Handbook for Revolutionaries" which provides guidelines for applying the ideas from the GE model to other organizations.

Quality or Else


This book was developed as a companion book to the 1991 PBS series of the same name (sponsored by IBM). Although the authors are Deming students, they give a balanced discussion of the role of all the quality teachers. They give a thorough history of the quality movement in Japan after W.W.II, and an overview of what is taught about quality in various environments. They have a chapter on the role of the Baldrige Award and a discussion of trade deficits and the role of the governments.

The Machine That Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production-- Toyota's Secret Weapon in the Global Car Wars That Is Now Revolutionizing World Industry


This book summarizes the information from a MIT study of the world automotive industry. The authors focus on understanding how Japanese companies design and build cars ("lean" production instead of "mass" production). The book contains some useful statistics and graphs on quality, automation, productivity, and costs that can be used as examples in presentations.

The Reckoning


This book offers some great insights into the modern history of management. Through a combination of character studies and exhaustive historical research, Halberstam chronicles the stories of Ford and Nissan. The main theme is the great challenge facing American industrial supremacy. The book contains a number of stories about understanding variation, impact of numerical goals, management by the numbers, etc., from which to develop anecdotes and examples.

Kaizen: The Key To Japan's Competitive Success


With the subtitle, "The Key to Japan's Competitive Success," this book describes 16 management practices that support unending improvement in an organization. The role of both improvement and innovation is described. The book shows the relationships between quality improvements (broadly defined) and increases in productivity and lower costs.

The Third Wave


This is the second book in a trilogy by Toffler. The other books are Future Shock and Powershift. This book discusses change in our society at every level with a look to the past, present and future. Toffler discusses the agricultural revolution (first wave), the age of mass production (second wave) and the emerging information age (third wave). This book is important for anyone wishing to understand how this change from the 2nd wave to the 3rd wave is impacting society, organizations, and individuals. An understanding of this shift helps us comprehend the rapid increase in change that we are experiencing now.

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