May 24, 2022

Why Innovation Is a Necessity, Not a Choice

Ryan Shriver

I first met Gabrielle Benefield in 2009 in London, at our mutual friend Tom Gilb’s conference. I had written an article on measuring value with Agile that got her attention. By happenstance, I had recently come across her article about scaling Agile at Yahoo in the early days. We immediately hit it off and started a collaboration that ultimately created Mobius and continues to this day.

When I heard Gabrielle and Robert were planning a trip to the United States, I knew I wanted to invite them to hang out in Richmond for a few days. During their visit, Gabrielle shared with our team and a few clients why innovation is an imperative, not a choice. Robert gave us a preview of his forthcoming book Lean DevOps and shared his experiences building scalable services and teams. We even managed a field trip to visit our friends at Canvas to show off their space and hang out with Scott and Vera.

The two days with the Benefields left our team inspired by new ideas and simple, actionable steps we can start taking immediately. We learned...

  • The challenges organizations face bringing innovation into their culture.
  • The disruptors threatening the fundamental ways we do business.
  • How to use outcomes to create the right environment for innovation and service delivery.
  • Effective delivery means achieving the outcomes that matter. Outcomes are not outputs. Outputs, at best, enable outcomes. Delivering lots of outputs quickly and/or cheaply is how most teams go wrong.
  • 4 key ingredients for effective decision-making: know the purpose of what you are doing, have sufficient situational awareness, remove unnecessary friction, and continually learn and improve.
  • How to create a sustainable innovation strategy based on Mobius, and how Agile and Lean manufacturing techniques within a DevOps context can dramatically improve speed, quality, and business insight for outmaneuvering the competition.

...and that's just scratching the surface. Below are a few key takeaways I wanted to share with anyone who was unable to join us.

#1 Outcomes might be simpler than you think

Architecture for the people by the people, Alastair Parvin's TED Talk

There’s an old Victorian school building in the United Kingdom. The architecture of these buildings is very narrow with staircases leading to rooms on different floors. This created a problem for the school.

When the bell would ring for students to change classrooms, everyone would enter the hallway at once. The congestion led to chaos, misbehavior, and bullying. So, the school hired an architecture firm to replan and redesign the entire building, reconciling the several million-dollar cost.

After observing the problem, the firm tested a little experiment. Instead of one school bell ringing for all students at the same time, they had several smaller bells go off in different classrooms at different times. The smaller bells distributed the number of students in the hallways and fixed the problem.

Instead of a million-dollar redesign, the problem was fixed for a few hundred.

#2 Problems are catalysts for innovation

To reach outcomes with a lot less effort and cost, you must understand the problem. Most people jump from problem to solution without truly understanding it. And that's where we lose a lot of ground.

We live in a time when it feels like every day we’re affected by more and more forces and influences.

  • Economic uncertainty
  • Climate change
  • Supply chain and security

You can’t plan for this stuff. What did you think you’d be doing two years ago? Or even last year? Author Rita McGrath talks about the end of competitive advantage and how the days of executing long, multi-year strategies are over.

Instead, you must adapt and outmaneuver the competition. Speed matters. Getting good ideas out faster matters.

#3 How to hack the corporate system and start innovating

People usually approach innovation in the following ways...

They build more, faster.

But more isn’t always better. Recall the simple solution in the architecture example. If you don’t understand the why then you’re building the wrong thing. And if you don’t understand your customers, then you’re missing an opportunity to build something great.

Here’s an example…

A guy went to his grandmother's home to visit and watch TV together. Every now and then, especially during the ads, his grandmother would get up and turn the volume down or get up and change the channel on the TV. Naturally, the grandson is like, “Hey grandma, what are you doing? You know you have a really cool remote control.” To which she says, “I can't use that thing, it's too complicated.” So, her grandson, being a user experience guru, fixed the issue with no problem by removing all the stuff she didn’t need.

What does grandma really need the remote control to do? Power on and off. Change the channel. Change the volume.

In this case, delivering a lot of features was a waste because she didn’t need them in the first place. We think we’re killing it with our wonderful features but they often turn out to be a huge waste. Instead, focus on streamlining and removing all the unnecessary stuff.

In response to this, people bring in methods like Design Thinking to be more customer-centric, which leads to the other common approach...

They get lost in discovery.

Deep discovery is important. It is how we put the customer at the center of our products. But it can be risky. People spend so much time trying to devise the perfect plan that they end up in analysis paralysis. On top of that, we still have business as usual work penalizing the more innovative work we want to do. When systems move slowly, it kills innovation.

It’s not just about innovating products anymore. Today, you must innovate your organization to attract and support great talent and to avoid being a target for disruption.

When you stay risk-averse, you take the biggest risk of all...getting thrown out of the market.

#4 The Mobius Loop

Do your teams tend to jump to solutions before understanding the problem? Is your organization delivering more outputs instead of the outcomes that really matter?

You’re not alone. Many times, organizations are quick to adopt the latest trend—Agile, Design Thinking, OKRs, or the latest scaling framework—yet still struggle to make an impact.

Methodologies are a means to an end. So, what makes a model useful?

  • They are agnostic of the underlying framework or method in use.
  • They help you answer the right questions at the right time.
  • Why are we doing it? Who are we doing it for? What change are we trying to make? What’s really going on? Did we make a difference and not just build a bunch of extra stuff?
  • They teach you how to fish.
  • We all do things differently. Create your own journey. Give people techniques and practices to choose and make their own models.

“I created Mobius to help the world realize that outcomes matter more than outputs. For too long, organizations have focused on building the wrong thing faster instead of delivering real value. When you use Mobius, that changes.” Gabrielle Benefield.

Innovation is simple, but not easy. Gabrielle created Mobius to make sense of the complexity while navigating innovation. It enables you to design your business strategy, develop products, and run operations using the same simple model. It’s self-similar or one that you can use at different levels and it specializes in coaching, training, and helping companies adopt its simple, yet innovative approach to problem-solving.

I can't thank the Benefields enough for joining our team, clients, and community for a couple of days. If you're interested in learning more, you can connect with Gabrielle and Robert, and learn more about the Mobius Loop here.


Ryan Shriver

Chief Technology Officer
Go to bio