Sunday, April 03, 2005

Optimization considered harmful

There is nothing wrong with optimization per se. Incremental improvements are almost always welcome. But there is something wrong when we spend an excessive amount of our time and resources on the incremental improvements that come from optimization while missing out on the kinds of radical improvements that can spring from true innovation. And, the real problem with optimization is that it has a tendency to reduce the flexibility of a given solution, hence making it more difficult to adapt the solution in the future as the environment evolves.

Sure, there are times when a focus on optimization is "better" than innovation, such as when it would be too disruptive to interrupt the operation of an existing process, where people are very dependent on not rocking the boat. Incremental and evolutionary improvements can frequently be made with minimal disruption.

But, there are frequently times where the modest benefits from optimization simply aren't good enough. Sometimes band aids are insufficient to achieve the necessary level of improvement and radical surgery may be needed. Sometimes people are so disappointed by the status quo that the kind of revolutionary improvements that can come from true innovation are preferable, no matter how disruptive they may be in the near term.

My suggestion: We need to focus more of our resources and talent on radical, revolutionary, earthshaking, disruptive innovations and defer more modest innovations that frequently consume more resources than they save. Let the chips fall where they may. In the long term, we'll be more satisfied with the results of taking giant steps and quantum leaps than focusing on incremental enhancements.

[This post was based on something I originally wrote on a web site of mine.]

-- Jack Krupansky

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