Saturday, November 17, 2012

How can we Innovate in a Manufacturing Environment?

I sat through two guests speakers the other day, both discussing innovation, but with two very different approaches.

The 1st had developed a program to teach companies how to be innovative, broken the process down into steps and went with the concept of "fail fast, fail cheap".  A very logical approach, and very "engineering minded", of do this and you will be an innovative/creative organization.  The speaker/instructor worked for Proctor & Gamble and developed many new products during his stint there. 

The 2nd discussed innovation as thinking outside the box.  A true creative type, working as a print media designer for companies like John Deere, the NBA, ect.  Much less formal and more "it came to me" and rely on past experiences to come up with new design.

So, two speakers, one pushing innovation as a step by step process, and one pushing it as a broad "think outside the box" approach.  Which is more important and which applies better in a manufacturing company that needs to come up with innovative ideas to survive?

I would argue that both approaches are important, but that neither is grasping the whole picture.  On one hand, creativity has to have limits, we can't live in perpetual brainstorming for all our lives, but at the same time Creativity is not a wholly written process.  In fact, I would say the less guidelines, due dates, criteria we (the leaders) give the happier we will be with the results.

I'll admit it's a hard process to figure out, one that takes a lot of trial and error to do right, but we all have to figure it out...just like lean, each company is different.

But I also believe that much like lean, Innovation can be handled systematically and when innovation is needed it can be conjured from the depths of your employees minds.  Again, each company has to determine how that happens for themselves, and setting strict guidelines on where and how to innovate is probably going to lead to failure.