18 May Manufacturers face challenges of innovation
Milwaukee, Wis. – Technology executive and author Tom Kelley calls them devil’s advocates. Guy Kawasaki, another notable executive author, calls them bozos. Whatever label or moniker one attaches to them, they are the people in business organizations who act as speed bumps or roadblocks to innovation, and they are a powerful force in American business.
So powerful, in fact, that they threaten to stifle the consistent and bold innovation that is considered a requisite of survival for American manufacturing companies. Fortunately, as Kelley explained during this week’s Manufacturing Matters Conference in Milwaukee, there are other role players that stimulate innovation, and Wisconsin manufacturers should identify and nurture them.
Kelley, general manager of the product design firm IDEO and author of The Art of Innovation and the Ten Faces of Innovation, described the traits of some of those faces, or role players, to the estimated 700 manufacturing representatives in attendance. As the general manager of IDEO, Kelley is familiar with the concept of innovation. The company has developed advances such as the Apple mouse, Polaroid’s I-Zone instant camera, and the Palm V.
Kelley believes these different role players sustain a culture of innovation in business organizations. While he identifies 10 faces, he emphasized three key “learning” roles:
The anthropologist, who ventures out into the field to learn how customers use products.
The experimenter, who is willing to learn from failure in order to achieve eventual success.
The cross-pollinator, who integrates new ideas from other companies, industries, or cultures.
Of those roles, Kelley views anthropologists as the most crucial – they can identify latent needs that customers haven’t even raised yet – but he encouraged the audience to counterbalance devil’s advocates by recruiting and nurturing all three.
“The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands, but seeing with new eyes,” he said, quoting French novelist Marcel Proust.
Kelley has been asked to develop a diagnostic test to uncover these traits in job candidates, but thus far he has declined. Instead, he advises organizations to “do a little experiment” with existing employees to pinpoint their aptitudes.
For example, to confirm one’s hunch about a potential cross-pollinator, he would register the employee for a two-day seminar, and afterward have him conduct a 15-minute lunch presentation to an entire team about the key insights. Knowing that a presentation has been assigned, the employee will pay closer attention at the seminar, and if the presentation is well done, “you’ve got your cross-pollinator,” Kelley said.
If not, a real-cross pollinator can be identified or recruited, but at least you have given the employee a chance to show his ability in anticipation of nurturing certain skills. “In fact, if it [the presentation] is good, they will have so much fun doing it that they will initiate it on their own next time,” Kelley added. “They will come back and say, `Hey, anybody want me to do a 15-minute lunch time thing on what I learned about Radio Frequency Identification tags?’ or whatever. It develops a life of its own.”
Listen here, senior
Kelley, who is willing to be unconventional, also encouraged manufacturing executives to embrace a “reverse mentor” and be willing to learn from younger generations. “We call it the eggs leading the chickens,” he said.
Kelley has two reverse mentors, including a young professional named Chris, from who he has learned about social networks like Friendster and MySpace, innovations like photo file sharing, and even some budding consumer trends. One day, Kelley noticed that Chris wasn’t wearing a wristwatch, which seemed peculiar to a man who practically has had one attached to him for 40 years.
“So I said, `Chris, what’s up with that? You’ve got meetings to go to,’ and he said, `Look, I don’t need a watch. I’ve got my cell phone, which keeps perfect time. It never has to be reset when I go to a new time zone. It doesn’t have to be changed at Daylight Savings Time. What would I want a watch for?'”
Kelley had missed that little market trend and began to understand it only because he had a reverse mentor. “He’s helped me in a thousand different ways just keep track of what’s happening in the world,” Kelley said, “even if it’s happening outside of my personal demographic.”