Every leader is driven by a vision for their organization. The vision of ‘what could be’, which is tempered by the reality of ‘what is’. What leaders work towards every day is bridging the gap between ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’—we refer to this gap as the delta.
The delta is what drives change in organizations. Why do organizations want to bridge the delta? Because of their desire to improve or exprove something—either their offerings, their relevance, their bottom line, their public image, etc.
Coming to how organizations can bridge the delta, it can be done through either improvement or exprovement.
While improvement is incremental, exprovement is an exponentially improved outcome to an existing or foreseeable challenge, accomplished by creating something that is currently not part of the ecosystem within which the problem exists. Improvement and exprovement can both bridge the delta based on ‘what could be’, but they each have a different approach, and so result in a different outcome.
Two major factors determine the outcome: Which part of an organization is involved in bridging this delta; and what is the degree of change expected,
An important factor that hugely influences the bridging of the delta is change—demographic, political, technological and environmental change to name just a few—which constantly alters where an organization sees themselves and where they would like to position themselves.
Simultaneously, the scenario and context of the organization itself keeps evolving, in terms of its capabilities, customers, consumers, competition, etc.
As a result, organizations are constantly chasing the delta in not just one, but many contexts, including, but not limited to:
· The delta between other organizations and themselves
· The delta between new markets and the ones they currently serve
· The delta between new technology and what they currently employ.
Exprovement begins with asking the right question; with taking a step back and understanding the level of impact one wishes to make to be able to pole-vault forward. The road to exprovement begins with big picture thinking. Once one has decided to go down this path, it becomes imperative to ask big picture or macroscopic questions. In the automotive industry if one asks the question ‘What can we do to improve the fuel efficiency of a car?’ one is likely to come up with a more efficient way of burning fuel, and thereby improve efficiency by a small percentage.
Whereas, if the question asked is ‘How can we achieve minimal running cost of an automobile?’ one is likely to look at alternative fuels such as electricity or fuel cells, and thereby exprove the running cost by an exponential amount.
It is also important to enable an environment that allows free exploration, imagination and creativity, in order for an exprovement to materialize.
Here is an example of the kind of leadership mindset that sets the stage for exprovement. A lead design engineer places a small rectangular wooden block on the table at the research lab at his company and explains that he wants the team to make a cassette player that matches the dimensions of the block of wood. He says nothing more and leaves the technicians to freely explore what they can come up with. The engineers eventually came up with the Sony Walkman, an exprovement when it was launched in 1979, which made it possible for the first time for people to listen to music on the go through wired headphones.
A leadership mindset that is able to identify the correct target board (a partial vision of the final outcome) but leave the dart-throwing to the enablers is far more likely to hit the bullseye of exprovement than if they were to lay down a list of specific constraints.
Excerpted from Exprovement by Hersh Halader and Raghunath Mashelkar, with permission from Penguin Random House India.