“Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.”  — George Santayana

When we strive to be truly innovative, some of the hard work is deciding what to keep and what to discard in your existing products or process.  Only a thorough review of the reasons and history behind the design will give you the correct answer. Usually this history is not written or well documented and must be traced through the people who designed the system. Every aspect of a design or system has a story that must be understood and then be innovated.

In Stephen Covey’s core book The Seven Habits, he says “seek first to understand, then to be understood,” and this applies well here. To understand well, hard listening and questioning must be used.  Tying in another piece of wisdom from Lean Thinking in the practice of “the five whys” will also help with the deep questioning needed. This approach asks the practitioner to ask the reason for each design five times based on the answer to each previous question. When complete, it allows a much deeper understanding of the background of the system.

Another example for application of this technique is the test standards we use in our industry. We are in a rewrite period for these standards now, and many of you will be voting in these ballots very soon. As with most standards that are built over many years, they contain all the rules that have been learned through mistakes. As each problem was brought to the attention of the industry, it was responded to with a rule that would help others avoid this problem. In effect, the standard is a blueprint to build good products by all door and window manufacturers. Before voting, each proposed section should be scrutinized in comparison to the existing sections to understand the effect of the change. In this draft ballot, about a third of the standard has been removed and a third has dramatically changed. This ballot will require more effort on the voters’ part than any in memory. It is essential that each voter assemble a team to review the change, ask the “five whys,” and contact your business partners to understand each issue. In this case, it is also best to have an extensive conversation with your test partners. Some items to focus on are:

    1. Elimination of sizes in residential doors and windows;
    2. Combination of residential and light commercial doors and windows;
    3. Elimination of durability rules;
    4. Air leakage measurement change;
    5. Operational force changes, and;
    6. Corrosion resistance changes.

As you reflect on the understanding of these sections, vote accordingly considering your products, how your competitors’ products will be affected and most importantly, how the industry will be affected. Innovation needs focus, and this exercise will do just that.

Keep innovating!

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