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Lean Six Sigma, creativity, and innovation

Roger W. Hoerl (GE Global Research, Niskayuna, New York, USA)
Martha M. Gardner (GE Global Research, Niskayuna, New York, USA)

International Journal of Lean Six Sigma

ISSN: 2040-4166

Article publication date: 26 March 2010




Creativity and innovation have recently emerged as the latest focus of the popular business media, replacing established approaches, such as Lean Six Sigma (LSS). Some have gone so far as to suggest that LSS inhibits organizations from being creative and innovating. This paper aims to dig beneath the surface of the media reports to examine what creativity and innovation actually are, and how they relate to LSS.


The paper reviews current literature on creativity and innovation, and based on extensive experience implementing LSS, compare and contrast the approaches, searching for common ground.


Not surprisingly, the paper finds that the terms creativity and innovation are typically not well defined in the media, and are used more as “buzzwords.” In reality, it argues, LSS clearly stimulates creativity. However, it is not the best method for identifying ideas for breakthrough innovation. Therefore, to have a holistic improvement system, organizations must combine LSS with other methods and approaches that are better suited to breakthrough innovation. It suggests one such approach: via a practical healthcare example, it contrasts this approach with a singular focus on disruptive innovation, which is too often recommended as a panacea in the media.

Practical implications

The findings suggest that organizations should develop holistic improvement approaches that are not based on one methodology, no matter how good that methodology is. The paper provides practical guidance as to how such a holistic approach should be constructed, and identify the critical role that LSS plays in this approach. LSS will clearly still be needed.


The paper provides a balanced viewpoint on continuous improvement and innovation, avoiding a position of advocacy of one versus the other. This proper context should help organizations properly integrate both into a broader improvement system.



Hoerl, R.W. and Gardner, M.M. (2010), "Lean Six Sigma, creativity, and innovation", International Journal of Lean Six Sigma, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 30-38.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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