Monday, March 24, 2008

Mastering Innovation Management

Throughout 2002 US manufacturers were cutting costs and curtailing investment in systems, innovation and, perhaps especially, consulting. When A.T. Kearney asked me to host a breakfast meeting of local Chicago executives, I asked Mir Aamir to help me put together a presentation on innovation that would highlight some of the advancements made in the auto and aerospace industries by our sister company, PLM (now Siemens PLM).

Prof. Willard I. Zangwill of the Graduate School of Business of the University of Chicago agreed to help us formulate ideas and the marketing staff did an outstanding job of organizing the event. Still, when the day arrived I just wasn't all that comfortable that we would have enough "new news" to satisfy the 30 or so people who were assembling, because it was clear that a number of astute innovators in their own rite had accepted our invitation.

We were about to deliver a lecture on how product lifecycle management technologies were enabling collaboration and knowledge-management among work groups that are distributed across far-flung enterprises. Instead, as coffee was being poured, we decided to turn the presentation into a collaborative work group. The discussion that followed was so rich and animated that it generated a much better white paper, "Mastering Innovation Management: Collaborating for Speed and Profit". (click to download the paper)

The panel agreed that the biggest challenge related to innovation is getting people to agree. Their recommendations:

  1. Focus on Priorities. Leaders in innovation begin with an intimate understanding of what their brands communicate, what needs they fill and what competitive niches they address. Paradoxically, they are able to sustain creativity by managing development through formal evaluation processes.
  2. Begin Collaboration Early. Collaboration solutions, such as wikis, enable organizations to share ideas globally, specifically, incrementally and immediately. Data capture becomes more critical, and more challenging, as businesses break products and processes down into modules to increase efficiency and boost flexibility.
  3. Link Key Parties. Top companies bring global research and development, engineering, manufacturing, sales and marketing and key suppliers into the design process. When companies focus on upstream prevention, rather than downstream enhancements they ensure they can actually deliver the innovative products they develop.

See "Making Agility an Ability", by Allan Alter, in the Fall edition of Innovations 2007

See also "Wikis While You Work", by Dave Greenfield in eWeek, November 26, 2007

See also: "Innovation, Communication and Leadership: New Developments in Strategic Communication", by Ansgar Zerfass and Simone Huck, International Journal in Strategic Communication 1(2), pp. 107-122

See also: The Frank Lloyd Wright legacy: an expensive taste in buildings on the Gabion website for an interesting account of the innovation challenge posed by an architect's unwillingness to collaborate. Fallingwater House, arguably Wright's most famous home design, was not structurally sound.

Contrast Wright's stubborn deification of personal style with the approach of Eero Saarinen, architect of the St. Louis Gateway Arch, pictured above. Saarinen was loved by his patrons and ridiculed by contemporary architectural critics, notably Vincent Scully of Yale, for refusing to elevate a signature style over functional design requirements.
See Saarinen Rising: a much-maligned modernist finally gets his due, by Clay Risen, The Boston Globe, November 7, 2004.

See also:
Building Respect at Yale, New York Times, December 16, 2007

See also our post, Best Practices in Architecture, for a fuller treatment of the approach of Eero Saarinen.

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