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Debate: Six Sigma vs. Innovation Essay Sample

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Debate: Six Sigma vs. Innovation Essay Sample

            The author defines six sigma and innovation with enough clarity that enables the reader to acquire a good grasp of what each concept encompasses. Then she mounts a persuasive argument which leaves the reader with no option but to agree with her thesis that if a business enterprise would like to survive and prevail in the global business climate, it should not prefer one over the other but should embrace both. Ms. Rae emphasizes that six sigma provides the company with the stability that it needs to weather the storm while innovation allows it to grow stronger and stay ahead of the competition (Rae, 2007).

            Six Sigma, as Ms. Rae correctly points out, literally means efficiency. It is a process which consists of steps meant to achieve perfection in a company’s business operations the objective of which is to reduce the incidents of error in order to achieve efficiency. Its ultimate aim is to net a fully satisfied customer base. She explains that for a company to successfully implement its own version of Six Sigma, it should avoid unnecessary risks by staying away from variation. In other words, the workers should do exactly the same things repeatedly, learn from their mistakes, and improve their performance in the process. Ms. Rae, therefore, describes a Six Sigma company as stable but has “very low tolerance for risk” (Rae, 2007)

            It does not take a lot of imagination to see how this concept works. One only has to look back to when mom and dad were teaching baby brother how to walk. She would usually hold baby brother while he would be waiting for him at a distance of about one meter. Then mom would release baby brother and dad would encourage him to take the steps needed to reach dad’s waiting arms. They would repeat this procedure until baby brother learned how to maintain his balance and be able to cover the distance of one meter. The procedure involved a second factor: a flat surface over which baby brother would be walking. Any sudden or untimely change in either of these two factors could hold back the learning process.

            On the other hand, Ms. Rae explains that innovation is synonymous with change and, therefore, risk-taking. While innovation means, in her own words, “to brave undiscovered, uncertain territory,” it is also “more entrepreneurial” and is being resorted to in order to “add significant chunks of revenue and profit.” What the author drives at is that unless a company decides to innovate, it could not expect to really grow and become stronger and hope to at least occupy a place near the top. This argument holds water especially if one bears in mind that the global market is changing every day and when a company resists change by refusing to introduce new and innovative products, its market share is bound to shrink (Rae, 2007).

Innovation was also resorted to by mom and dad when they were teaching baby brother how to walk. Once they found that baby brother could already cover the one meter distance with confidence, dad would move back another meter or two to encourage him to attempt to cover a longer distance. This strengthened the leg muscles of baby brother and increased his confidence. Once his balance became really stable, baby brother was allowed to “brave undiscovered, uncertain territory” by walking on uneven, unpaved surfaces or even climb staircases. They had to do this because his leg muscles would not have developed fully if he was only allowed to walk on even, flat surfaces at all times. In other words, it was necessary for mom and dad to innovate in order to make baby brother stronger.

Ms. Rae, therefore, brings up a valid point by saying that Six Sigma stabilizes a company but innovation is what gives it enough strength to propel it to the top. She also correctly points out that while Six Sigma is an effective method of achieving efficiency by continuously improving employee performance, it is inherently resistant to change because change is disruptive. Therefore, Six Sigma is not designed for growth. On the other hand, while innovation allows the company the opportunity of increasing its profits, it involves the taking of risks. This argument is not only valid but also persuasive. Growth means a change in size, number, expanse, and strength. Therefore, a company that resists change cannot grow. On the other hand, a company that is in a hurry to grow or expand without first stabilizing its operations is often unable to weather the uncertainties inherent in a highly competitive market (Rae, 2007).

This gave rise to what Ms. Rae calls the “ambidextrous organizations [which strive for] simultaneous efforts.” This simply means that the organization should first work for a stable operation for its right hand before letting its left hand “brave undiscovered, uncertain territory.” In other words, it should first apply Six Sigma in order to achieve efficiency. Then it assigns “the more ambitious efforts at innovation” to a separate team. This would allow the company to preserve its gains while aspiring for growth. In other words, if its innovative efforts fail, the company does not lose everything. An ambidextrous organization is what is needed in today’s business environment. Ms. Rae is therefore correct in her conclusion that “Innovation and Six Sigma are different methods that beget different types of results and require different management styles. Companies don’t have to choose between the two – innovation and Six Sigma can coexist.” This is a very logical conclusion considering that in light of the high level of competition prevailing in today’s market, it is wise for companies to entrench themselves first before fighting for a place at the top (Rae, 2007).

Since her thesis is perfectly acceptable, her “Rules of the Road” should therefore be observed. These are: Communicate a compelling mission; separate the efforts; appoint an “ambidextrous” senior manager to oversee both efforts; support both teams appropriately; and change the incentive system.  According to Ms. Rae, while employees should be made aware that the company is striving for growth by being innovative, it should also make it clear that Six Sigma should be implemented continuously in order to safeguard the gains so far made by the company. Then in the tradition of ambidextrous organizations, the author recommended that Six Sigma should be implemented by the existing teams while innovative efforts should be the concern of new teams specifically organized for the purpose. Her third recommendation is that Six Sigma and innovation should only be managed by a single manager who has the ability to run the existing as well as the new businesses. Finally, she declared her preference for the equal treatment of the Six Sigma and the innovation efforts and stated her unequivocal support for raising the salaries of employees in order to motivate them to perform satisfactorily (Rae, 2007).

Reference

Rae, J. (2007). Debate: Six Sigma vs. Innovation. BusinessWeek Online. Retrieved October

            30, 2008, from

http://www.businessweek.com/print/innovate/content/feb2007/id20070227_766365.htm

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