Coming to Terms with Innovation

May 30, 2013
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With so much talk about a manufacturing renaissance, everyone is looking for an edge.

“Stronger, better, faster, cheaper” has long been the refrain of American Manufacturing. But consider this: are these really the characteristics of meaningful innovation?  If your business is racing to do the same thing as everyone else, how will that make you unique?

For almost a decade, the term “innovation” has seen almost as much use as “ROI” in the modern business vernacular. Yet for all of the use, it can mean very different things to every company and individual; no two definitions are ever really the same.

Innovation leads to an improvement over the status quo.

Let’s leave definitions aside for the moment.  In simplest terms, we can explain innovation as providing a uniquely meaningful experience or outcome for the purchaser or recipient of a good or service. Put another way, innovation leads to an improvement over the status quo.

A capitalist might take that explanation a step further, saying innovation is more about the monetization of the uniquely meaningful experience or outcome that resulted in an improvement over the status quo.

Whichever version you prefer, what matters most is that the concept of innovation can transcend definitions and movements. When it does, it can be a true north for any business looking to break away from the competitive pack.

The key is turning the concept of innovation into a process that will stick.

Not surprisingly, thousands of methods exist for creating innovation cycles within organizations. Some work better than others, and if your business is able to adopt the right one, you might spur the kind of change that can draw customers away from competing products or services. As Peter F. Drucker once said, “Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship…the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.”

As you prepare your business for this philosophical shift, seek the appropriate balance of resources and time investments, and remember that it is essential to feed the innovation process with multi-departmental support. Diversity will spark stimulus, and stimulus will provoke results, but results will take some time and planning.

Several years ago, Edward de Bono, the acclaimed author of “Six Thinking Hats,” had the following to say on the topic of innovation: “There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.”

Fast forward to 2013, and we still find innovative companies managing to escape the commoditization trap.  Rather than being pigeonholed in markets where price is king and overseas suppliers beat out stateside vendors, these innovators thrive by focusing on more and more creative solutions to their customer’s needs, maintaining a laser focus on that uniquely meaningful experience.

“The new standard for U.S. firms to compete both domestically and abroad is leveraging innovation,” said Mark Basla, vice president marketing and business development, DVIRC. “All companies need to adopt creative approaches to solving problems, filling niches, identifying market opportunities, and expanding into new markets. This is a new concept for many, but creativity need not be complicated, cumbersome or expensive. It’s about generating new ideas for growth.”

Taking control of innovation will put your business in rare air. Time and experience have proven there will always be a demand for measurably smarter choices. For businesses like yours it is just a matter of defining and mapping them out.

For 25 years the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center has helped the region’s small and medium-sized manufactures use innovative approaches to grow their business value. To learn more or get started with building your own innovation programs, contact us today.