September 04,2019 Facilitating Innovation

Observing the Work

Observing the Work

Finally, Battle Rhythm

The United States Navy prides itself over its tradition to run a tight ship, which is slang for operating at a high level of efficiency. This is drilled into Sailors so that when in times of crisis that they will be able to react quickly to the emergencies at hand. Called battle rhythm where the ship’s Captain sets the operational work process for the organization. This creates the work tempos of meetings, drills, shift changes, etcetera. While it is built for ship optimization, observing the work is also used by the ship’s Officers to assess operations making it an easier method to diagnose when something is wrong and needs fixing.

Toyota Production System

Toyota has a parallel process for its Toyota Production System commonly referred to as the Lean methodology. In the Lean system, there is an approach to problem-solving which is the Gemba Walk. This roughly translates to going out to see for yourself. The emphasis is to gain additional perspective by viewing operations in person. The belief is that this helps enable the knowledge worker to gain new insights by placing themselves in the situation.


IDEO founder, Tim Brown, who helped develop the methodology of Design Thinking stresses the same points of observing the work. Design thinking consists of five stages: emphasize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. The first key to design thinking is going out to interface with the work or the customer to help develop a level of empathy which will then enable greater insights when creating solutions.

Observing the Work

Call it work observations, Gemba walks or emphasizing they all focus on gaining outside perspectives to help see opportunities with fresh eyes. Because using outside perspectives without preconceived notions or blinders creates a sense of innocence with the observer.  They do not have the background to see the sacred totems or taboos enabling fresh insights and the ability to ask questions without losing accrued status.

Another Perspective

Observation gives perspective and perspective gives understanding. It helps build the background to the opportunity. It additionally adds qualitative insights to problem framing. This helps incorporate the humanistic side to design which is sometimes hidden by metrics and analysis.

Because of Six Sigma

The Lean methodology is designed to find waste or tasks of nonvalue, Six Sigma is geared towards finding defects, and operational excellence looks to follow a theory of constraints to help understand what needs to be addressed.  As a result, these all point to visually understanding issues and discovering opportunities to create more value for their customers.  This engages empathy in the human cognition and provides the external stimuli the brain needs to contextualize something new in the same place. It pairs imagination with context enabling the mind to visualize easier. Lastly, it incorporates previously unknown requirements and adds another layer of practicality towards the designed solution.

Practical Applications

  • Get out of the office and go see the work. Then make a routine out of it until everyone knows your name.
  • Talk to the customers and operators. Asking for an informational interview is a perfect icebreaker and people are typically excited to explain what they do and why.
  • Make getting out to observe the work and talk with customers a part of the workshops. Workshops are a significant investment that you do not want to be spent driving your organization in the wrong direction.

Cambridge Philosophical Society

Founded in 1819, the Cambridge Philosophical Society, became the center for enlightened thought in England. Established by Cambridge men Adam Segwich and John Stevens Henslow their goal was to create a specialized club for the university’s top minds which at the time only consisted of white protestant men. The early stipulations were also to forbid members to marry so that they could focus their full mental efforts on obtaining new knowledge.

Hence the Spirit of Inquiry

What makes this organization particularly special is that they developed the “Spirit of Inquiry.” This is a model of science that looks to gain new insights by reviewing archival material. They work as historians by taking modern-day advancements to study old research. Darwin’s theory of evolution was bolstered by this society and this method of review. Similar to observing the work, it is another approach for being able to see the work in a different and new perspective.


Brown, T. (2016, May 16). Hence Unlock your Organization’s Creative Potential. Retrieved from Design Thinking:

Irmscher, C. (2019). Hence Inventing the Scientist. Wall Street Journal.

Walker, S. (2019, June 15). Run a Tight Ship Because of the Navy Way. Wall Street Journal.

Watson, M. (2018). Another Common Strategies and Practices Among Facilitators of Innovative Thinking in Organizations. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest.

Let 9m Facilitate Your Next Innovation

Share This