The importance of order in innovation. What can you learn from the new Learning Line reports?
Innovation is one of those often used and often misused words. I recently read a great definition: "innovation is nothing without the intelligent application of ideas; it isn’t the technology that is innovative, it is the creative application of ideas, which often involves technology, that is innovative."
Whether innovation is found in new business processes, supply chain management, manufacturing or something else, it can give a company a competitive edge. In a climate where any edge matters, it’s no surprise that innovation is such a hot topic.
If you think about innovative companies, the likes of Apple or Amazon will probably come to mind. But innovation doesn’t have to mean mainstream household names. Neither does it have to be restricted to something new.
Take for example the global out-sourcing firm, Li & Fung from Hong Kong. They supply high-volume, time-sensitive consumer goods from an extensive global network of suppliers and distributors. Having started as a trading broker they have grown to become the largest multinational outsourcing company in the world, indirectly employing over 2 million people.
Li & Fung were influential in changing a process for clothing companies. Their customers had a long held view that outsourced manufacturers shouldn’t add price tags on the clothes they made. The reason for this view was a fear that the manufacturers would use the information as a tool to re-negotiate contracts. From a logistics point of view the clothes would arrive at a depot where they needed to be unboxed, have the price tag added, reboxed and then distributed around retailers. This added time and cost.
Li & Fung understood that the manufacturers knew the retail prices anyway and so so they worked to change the opinion of the clothing companies. Their success in allowing manufacturers to add barcodes and RFID tags led to much faster time to market.
This is an example of innovation in action: analysing data to understand where efficiencies can be achieved and implementing a small change to achieve a big result.
One of the key elements in this example was the recognition that the order in which tasks occur matters. Ultimately the act of adding the price tag was done in both the old and the new method. However, the difference of adding the price tag before shipping was enormous.
It comes down to maths, and a profound and innovative discovery of symmetry by a French mathematician in the late 1820s. His name was Evariste Galois and he had an interest in solving equations. His innovative approach to equations used symmetry and his discoveries represented an important leap forwards in mathematical thinking.
His first finding was to see that in the equation, if x squared = 4 then x = 2 the answer for x could also be -2. This understanding of symmetry was innovative and important. To understand symmetry is to to recognise that it is something you do, rather than it being a passive property of the shape itself.
If you take a square piece of paper, there are a number of ways in which you can pick it up and place it back down and still have the same square. This is true even if you have rotated it, flipped it over or reflected it down the middle. (There are actually a total of 8 symmetries.)
The important thing is that order matters
For example, if we take the piece of paper and imagine that it has the image of a face on it and we rotate the paper by 90 degrees and then flip it over, the face points right. However, if we flip the paper first and then rotate by 90 degrees, the face points left.
Understanding this helps explain why the actions of Li & Fung were so innovative. They took a concept that was well known (Galois died in 1832) about the importance of order and applied it to a completely new area, with dramatically profitable effect.
As a last example relating to order, we could consider the 18th century conundrum of the ‘7 bridges of Konigsberg'. The town in Prussia (now Kaliningrad in Russia) is set on both sides of the River Pregel. There were two islands which were connected to each other and the mainland by seven bridges. The idea behind the problem was to find a way through the city that would cross each bridge once, and only once. The islands could not be reached by any route other than the bridges, and every bridge must be crossed completely every time. The walk need not start and end at the same spot.
This question fascinated and amused residents and mathematicians for many years. Instead of walking around the town itself, the mathematician Leonhard Euler created a geometry of position where the only thing that mattered was how they were connected. This is the same theory that applies to the iconic London Tube map, where distance between stations is irrelevant.
Euler worked out that the areas of land were simply points, like stations, that were connected by lines. His conclusion was that there needs to be an even number of points for a round trip where retracement doesn’t occur.
The significance of this took time to be comprehend, but we now understand that this rule can be applied in any situation. The importance of this shouldn’t be misunderstood: it is the fundamental basis today for how search engines work on the internet. It’s another example of the importance of order of actions and the clarity required in processing tasks to reach the correct result.
Dashboards on the Learning Line
How does this relate to reports and dashboards on the Learning Line? We believe that giving users and moderators of the Learning Line access to rich, real time, data opens the route to innovation and this is why we have started to implement some new dashboards. Processing the data in the correct order is an essential part of making sense of the vast array of data that we could interrogate.
Are these dashboards innovative?
The goal at Coracle is to transform learning and in order to meet that goal we need to provide the tools for users and moderators to empower themselves. The first step on that path is providing a platform and LMS that offer anytime any device access to rich content. Next is the opening of the hosepipe to the data generated by users of the Learning Line in order to allow two things to happen. It allows us to present the data in an innovative, useful and what we term ‘boardroom ready’ fashion, and secondly it allows our customers to interrogate the data in such a way as to innovate themselves.
The reports give trainers and educators a great overview of how learners are getting on. They answer questions such as:
- How many people have used my content in the past day, week or month?
- What’s my most popular content?
- Who’s storming through the training and who’s struggling with it?
- Which lessons are proving trickiest and which might be too easy?
- Who has done mandatory modules and can safely and legally be assigned to certain tasks?
This sort of data offers amazing scope for innovation. It’s leading trainers to revise their content, make their induction processes more effective, develop new training courses, attack new markets overseas and even think about how their own products can be improved.
As the months roll on we will be releasing a variety of reports to build on this. We have identified a number of key aims, such as Individual Learning Plans that dynamically recommend suggested courses of action, and will write more on these in due course.