Team Building Leadership Innovation Expert Michael Cardus

Standardization is the first step to innovation, Alan Kay Wrote,

“…every team is different. I think you have to take the principles and practices you mention, align them with the goals of the organization and decide where to place the emphasis. The application would vary greatly if you were running a highly regulated business, e.g., healthcare vs. an innovative internet retailing business.”

I agree that the emphasis may be different for different teams and industries. To do their best work at their maximum effectiveness, every organization and person seeks personal mastery.

For innovation to occur, the person traverses through 3 phases of learning: rote Copying, Surface Understanding, Personal Mastery.

Using the examples, Alan supplied let’s see how innovation of process and the need for standardization applies.


It is regulated, yes, and I have had my blood drawn and seen blood drawing at five different facilities in the past year, which will be my example. Each facility and individual, when drawing blood, have their way of completing this task. They use different techniques, tell different stories. I have even seen a variety of needles, tubes, containment systems…The way they arrange the needles, the steps they take, etc.…

All of this is their judgment and decision in solving the problems that arise during their tasks. This ‘personalized’ technique and for some excellent skills set (some phlebotomists are exceptional and you cannot even feel the needle, some are horrible they dig and poke and leave bruises) came from;

  • Rote Copying in Medical and/or Nursing school, plus some residency or apprenticeship. Where they were watched and told to follow the steps.
  • Surface Understanding As the comfort level increased and the professor, managers, peers coached and showed the tricks, they began to “get a feel” for how drawing blood works.
  • After several years, personal mastery in process innovation in blood drawing is great, and they now have their process that is still within the regulations.

This one feels obvious because what the Nurse does is a routine day in and day out from what we see. But with every step in the process, he has to use his judgment about the environment, patient, time, and several other factors.

Innovative Internet Retailing Business:

Perhaps not as regulated as healthcare, and still there are Goals, Roles, Procedures that exist either explicitly they are part of a training manual, shared understood, known to the employee. Or implicitly Not documented although exist as part of the unspoken rules and norms of the organization.

The people who make up this business all must operate within the company’s assigned Goals, Roles, and procedures; otherwise, the company would not exist. While we may think that Rote Copying, Surface Understanding, and Personal Mastery don’t apply to innovative business, it still does.

A Customer Representative from this company is an example. All customer reps in this company, like the phlebotomist above, have their way of solving problems and making decisions within the boundaries of their work. These boundaries are often called Policies & Procedures, Local Operating Standards (LOP), Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), etc.… Their mastery of how they answer the customer request, interact, calm angry people, solve problems, etc.…

All of this is their judgment and decision in solving the problems that arise during their tasks. This ‘personalized’ technique and for some great skills set (some customer service reps are amazing, some are really horrible) came from;

  • Rote Copying they had to learn how to answer the phone, use the computer system, communicate with other sales reps and departments within the company, speak to a customer, etc.… This all happened in a combination of on the job and possibly from other workplaces. They copy what they see and are coached evaluated by more senior members and managers.
  • Surface Understanding After some time, the rep. begins to work on his own, taking calls, solving problems, and dealing with customers. From the rote copying, she knows some boundaries and best practices from others—the understanding of how the system works and how to interact with the customer increases. Still, the manager and senior members supply coaching and feedback.
  • Personal Mastery Now, the rep. examines her own process for working with customers and finds their own tricks and steps to improve the work within the given set of boundaries. Using relationship and continuous improvement to master the innovative internet retail business.

At any given moment, all of us, whether in work, relationships, life, are Rote Copying, Surface Understanding, and Personally Mastering many things and many times at many levels.

An organization needs to acknowledge this and develop a system where everyone consistently is improving their work. The manager’s job is to learn how each person is improving their work, encourage everyone to teach and share what and how they are improving, and unify this knowledge so that others can learn from it.

Whether you are mopping a floor, selling a car, and designing the next innovative patent … It starts with copying what already exists, developing an understanding of how and why it works, then mastering and evolving the process to match your needs situation.

image by kevin dooley