Innovation Moderation

Sometimes What Comes Out to Be a Great Idea Doesn’t Necessarily Fit the Customer’s Scope

Joe FeeleyBy Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

I shouldn’t say it, but sometimes I get tired of hearing the word “innovation.” I hear it a lot. You hear it a lot. Indeed, it’s a critically important element in any company’s success, but the word gets tossed around like a quick fix that’s easy to do. It’s the magic pill that cures the ills of all foundering companies. Swallow this, brother, and your company will feel better in the morning. You even find yourself being berated because you’re not innovating your brains out like it’s some kind of 30-day weight-loss program.

“Engineers frequently tinker with ideas—but sometimes what comes out to be a great idea doesn’t necessarily fit the customer’s scope. That’s when it becomes important to define design requirements early in the design phase and fully understand what the customer is willing to pay for.” So said John Poore, director of operations for Ametek, as part of a recent Aberdeen Group research study on the difference innovation can make to manufacturing companies.

We all can agree with that, no? Successful innovation takes planning, a lot of cooperation and time.

The companies participating in the Aberdeen study identified the five top challenges to actual innovation. Finding a way to free up employees from current responsibilities to give them real time to innovate was No. 1. The demands of strict product development schedules, finding the right problems to focus on and assessing the commercial return on the results of innovation came next, followed by fixing work environments that aren’t conducive to innovation.

Cooperation and time are two commodities that become even-more precious in the economic quicksand we’re currently wading through. Can you successfully innovate in bad times?

The study doesn’t answer that question, but it does report that the companies that say they’re the most successful at meeting revenue, cost, development cost objectives and launch dates are the ones that have the best handle on the factors I just mentioned.

A new automation strategy is an obvious source for successful innovation, given an opportunity. Strong companies depend on revenue from new products. For many on them an unwavering objective is that 25% of revenue always must come from selling something they didn’t have five years ago. That’s a moving target that maintains a thirst for new ideas based on understanding customer needs, and machine automation can be a huge factor in that.

Maybe we can start using the word more wisely. We’ve tried to do that by recognizing real results of real innovation in our annual Innovator Awards, for which the nomination process now is in full gear at ControlDesign.com/innovator.

Some of you represent exactly the companies that we really can describe as innovators. Let’s tell your story. 

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