Lesson from the Boeing Tragedy? Innovation Without Adoption May Have Negative Value

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Our prayers to all that were impacted and we hope that it never happens again.  Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned that can be applied by us and I wrote about this when the Lion Air tragedy happened. I’m sure that vigorous investigations will lead to conclusions and disagreements and counter theories and lawsuits etc., and I’m not laying blame on anyone. 

There is no real intrinsic value in ANY innovation – the Value starts being generated only after Adoption starts.  This phenomena has been academically and empirically studied for a long time and yet we fail to Adopt the learnings.  It may have all started with Boeing’s initial strategic decision to not develop a new plane (development cost of 787 Dreamliner was $32 billion!) to compete with Airbus but rather to redesign the 737 (launched 1967) causing the engines to be moved up thus causing the pitch problem and so a software solution was deployed (which supposedly may be a contributing factor). 

This auto pilot innovation is designed to correct the nose tilting up but is suspected to be doing it when not needed.  Pilots therefore need to be able to catch it when it happens and correct for it, and that’s where Adoption becomes critical.  Innovation that is not Adopted adds no value and sadly, sometimes it adds negative value.  Apparently, the introduction of this auto pilot innovation was lacking, educating everyone was not effective, documentation was sparse, information was not available – these are all claims being made by airlines, pilots and regulators, etc.  The most critical element in Adoption of this innovation was the pilot’s ability to get the designed value of the innovation – keeping the flight safe and that means the pilot knowing and being trained on using the innovation effectively.

Now imagine all the different airlines across the world flying these planes.  They are all at a different level of maturity as organizations with different levels of infrastructures and different pilots with different levels of training – you get the picture.  Their ability to Adopt or absorb this innovation is radically different.  United and American have far greater Adoption capability than some other airlines in the developing world with nascent air travel?  For example, there are four levels of pilot training and UA and AA have Level 4 training which is based on identifying competency gaps (Evidence Based Training) and closing them for pilots.  Some of these other airlines have Level 1 training which is the most rudimentary form of training consisting mostly of reading manuals and lectures.  To expect both of these types of airlines to adopt this innovation at the same rate is ludicrous.  Thus we perhaps see the difference in how UA and AA have been able to deal with this innovation compared to others – even though there are some reports that even US pilots have lodged a handful of  incidents.  The big difference is that we never heard about them because the pilots were able to correct for the software!!!

While the original risk may have been introduced during the strategy phase in this case, the lack of attention to what really creates Value (adoption) during the execution phase may have exacerbated the risk further.  So if you are working on any type of innovation (new process, new technology, training etc.), allot 50% of your budget to ADOPTION – please!  That is the only way to ensure the highest ROI possible and stay away from a negative ROI.  Still don’t believe me?  Go to you control panel on whatever device you are reading this on and randomly go to 3-4 options and just follow those menu options – how many of those did you know about and are using?  All the ones you are not are examples of value that was designed into the innovation but created zero value for you and you paid for it! Ever try using 2 fingers instead of 1 on your touchpad?  Or 3?  Does it make a difference?

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Dalip Raheja
Dalip Raheja is President and CEO of The Mpower Group (TMG). Dalip has over 30 years of experience managing large organizations and change initiatives. He has worked across the spectrums of supply chain management, strategic sourcing, and management consulting.
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