Innovation mining

A manufacturing company found itself at the top of the list as market leader within their sector. Yet they were lost as to where new growth was to come.

As a natural risk response, the senior level impression was that innovation as a growth driver would entail high cost investment and resources would be redirected from successful business operations. Yet they were adamant growth was necessary. Where to look?

Within senior management there was opinion that innovation, and in turn diversification, would require new skills, new knowledge and new ideas in a way they were not familiar or currently capable. This view was not justified by tangible or identifiable constraints so was a decidedly key aspect to test.

They asked us to objectively assess the barriers to innovation. To identify how new growth could be achieved, in what form and notionally at what cost impact. An audit of capabilities was initiated that would map machinery, technology and workshop scope. But management was persuaded to go one step further.

A series of small exercises of prototypes were devised that would allow designers to work on the shop floor, alongside trades people to solve the associated technical issues. While the prototypes were of little purpose, the opportunity to 'interview' production staff candidly was the underlying motive.

From friendly, conversational and anecdotal information a new picture of the true capabilities of the company emerged. Many staff had come from other industries, other careers and trades. Some from the military and everyone had a life-story to tell.

With due discretion this information was compiled, along with the hard-knowledge from the audit and a strategy proposal was put to management. It outlined the holistic range of skills, interests and especially diversity of experience and expertise in the production staff.

Around this a portfolio of product development concepts were aligned. Existing strengths within the company were identified, key staff were approached according to prior knowledge and a whole new future of innovative growth emerged.

Stefan Kahn