“Creativity” vs “Opportunity for Error”

One of the things I often hear when we start talking about mistake-proofing and standardizing operations is that we are taking away people’s “creativity.”

“Creativity” in this case is usually the challenge of figuring out how to make a broken process function, or figuring out how to make the product work when, as designed, it doesn’t. “Creativity” means knowing what Julie actually keeps a stash of the parts that are always short, and knowing how to interpret vague, contradictory or obsolete drawings and work instructions. Nobody can look me in the eye and honestly say that a workplace like that is fully respectful of people.

Honestly, the very last thing I want to do is take creativity out of the workplace. But on the other hand, how much creativity is totally wasted on things that should be simple and straightforward?

As long as people’s mental energy must be expended to simply get the process to do something useful, there is none left for them to figure out why is doesn’t work and fix it.

The illusion, I think, is that once things are standardized that there will be nothing left to do.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There is plenty of work to do.

First, “standardizing” is simply setting down what we believe is our best shot at what should work. Once reality sets in, there are nearly always things nobody thought of – opportunities to learn. Capturing those moments is impossible if there is no consistent baseline in the first place.

And, just for the sake of argument, let’s say that the process, as designed, works pretty well. The question must then be asked: “Are we able to provide our customers exactly what they need, exactly when they needed it, on demand, one-by-one, perfect quality, in a perfectly safe environment?” If the answer to that question even includes a hesitation, then it there is work to be done.

Respect your people. Simplify the things that should be simple. Let them focus their creativity on something that matters, not on how to get through the way without screwing up.

3 Replies to ““Creativity” vs “Opportunity for Error””

  1. I think the answer to this revolves around who we are. If I look inside my mind it will be totally different from that of my coworkers. How they function, what drives them, how they feel etc. Not all people need to be creative, but make the ones that need this feel like they are. And there needs to be respect for differences since social dynamics power teams.


    Also check out JTI, a lot of coaches use that around here when they work with major companies.

  2. There appears to be a movement with “Opportunity For Error” within the medical devise mfg industry being lead by a gentleman named Dave Cano. If anyone can point me in a direction that I can learn more about this I would appreciate it.

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