Improving Your Return On Innovation

Return On InnovationWe often get excited about Innovation, especially since most of it is fun. Some people can get carried away and forget that the name of the game is to make money. If we do make money then we should be maximising the amount that we do make, both for stakeholders and to reinvest in future enterprises.

One of the major ways that we can improve the return that we get is to make sure that we have possible patents in mind during our research and prototyping phases. Do not leave this any later as IP that is in the public domain cannot be patented.

Innovation teams are often isolated from a company’s patent ‘machine’. This can mean that innovation processes can move forward with little or no consideration of whether competitors can copy the resulting products. The innovation process itself is fairly well protected since what is kept in the heads of employees is hard to copy. The resulting ‘innovations’ can be somewhat easier to copy. They may not be a direct copy but they will result in customers going elsewhere to buy cheap imitations. If the IP contained is not patented then there are two major issues to consider:

  1. Competitors may simply work out how we have created a product and then copy it, reducing its value to us
  2. For high value items such as pharmaceuticals we lose the ability to licence products and hence generate revenue if we do not wish to take them to market./

Companies may then not attain expected returns because competitors can legally copy the innovation—be it a product, technology or otherwise—without incurring legal penalties.

It is not always necessary to protect innovation outputs with patents e.g if  a product has a short shelf-life or where the company may desire to protect technology by treating it as a trade secret. However, for innovation programmes where business strategy  assumes exclusivity, companies must usually seek  patent protection.

Also, the absence of a function that provides patent expertise may mean that innovations are not properly audited  for risks of potential patent infringement or other IP protection infringement until significant development effort and expense have been expended.

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Engineering Innovation

Gripple LimitedThe above is a deliberately ambiguous title. Does it mean that Innovation can be engineered or is it highlighting Innovation for Engineers? The answer is actually yes to both.

For a long time I have been promoting a system that can measure Innovation potential and help develop an Innovation blueprint for organisation in any sector. Now it is time to focus on engineering and manufacturing. In the current economic climate there are organisations that will sadly fail and there are organisations that are doing well both in terms of Innovation and long term sustainability. For a good example based here in the UK take a look at Gripple Limited, a Sheffield based company that is both innovative in its leadership, products, structure and the adoption of shared ownership.

Many businesses would like to copy Gripple but cannot, why? The reason is simple. We can copy buildings, products and manuals but we cannot copy what is inside the heads of employees. Truly innovative companies share certain traits but the sharing of knowledge, the creation of ideas and the frameworks that help to make up company culture are different.

For this very reason I have created Engineering Innovation in order to help businesses in the Engineering and Manufacturing sectors to work in ways similar to Gripple. The aim is to create businesses that are truly innovative and sustainable using concepts that are reasonably familiar to to those who work in these sectors. The programme is based on three principles – UnderstandModel and Build. The first principle provides a framework for understanding the innovation process, what is possible, becoming used to living with ambiguity and defining the scope and resources for the journey. The second builds a model that shows where a business is in terms of its ability to innovate, identifying what it is good at, the quick wins needed to help generate buy in, and where scarce resources are best targeted. Finally we build the organisation that will create new products, services and processes based upon the work done so far. Note we do not destroy, merely transform and enhance to produce ‘total innovation’ that pervades every part of the organisation.

Why is this approach unique? For an in depth answer please get in touch. But in a nutshell, Innovation is a strategy based on humans, their behaviour and the way they communicate and interact and is very little to do with shiny gizmos and gadgets. It can be defined in terms of outputs with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) but is much better modelled using drivers for human behaviour such as those that promote, creativity, good leadership etc. This is what I have done and this soft engineering approach appears to be unique. Does it work? Yes!

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How (not) To Formulate Company Policy

Do you recognise this style of management within your own organisation? Is this how you create company policy?

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result -all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm!

Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth,then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been done around here.

And that, my friends, is how company policy begins.

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Resources vs. Resourcefulness

Resourcefulness v resources in InnovationI must admit to having a large bee in my bonnet about this topic. If you think of Innovation as a purely human activity then it is possible to innovate successfully amongst any groups of people, in any country in the world – in fact anywhere.

Before you run away to base your latest innovative enterprise in Tibet there are one or two issues to consider. First of all there is the subject of resourcefulness. People the world over are creative. They solve everyday problems in unique ways. I have trouble changing a bicycle tyre with tools from a cycle shop, can you imagine changing a car or even a truck tyre with just basic tyre levers and some soapy water? Who can accomplish this? Teenage boys in Malawi. Trade embargoes have brought countries such as Iran and Cuba to their knees but cars, trucks and factory machinery soldier on. This is old stuff right?

Not so! Motor manufacturers have left the production of prestigious prototypes to Indian design studios and Mexican factories produce high spec components for the US aircraft industry.

This is a long winded way of saying to the so called developed world ‘watch out’. Resourcefulness abounds. Innovation is like a race run by humans. Some of us have a head start, some have good running shoes and some do not. Those still at the starting line are simply strapped for resources. When they finally get them, they are more than capable of running faster than everyone else. Why is that? The people that are left behind have had years (centuries) of having to think creatively. As they have developed, they have not overburdened themselves with education systems that strangle creativity. Cultural systems have allowed knowledge to be collected and passed down through generations. Creativity and Knowledge is a very powerful combination indeed.

Anything is possible given the resources! Who are you backing to win the Innovation race?

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12 Phrases To Avoid At Work

12 phrases to avoidYou come up with good ideas at work and take them to the boss. Do you hear any of these phrases to avoid in his reply? Even worse, do you use these phrases when talking to your colleagues? They tend to kill ideas and have a nasty effect on organisational culture too.
  1. yes but…
  2. we have no time for that
  3. can’t be done
  4. let’s be realistic
  5. that’s not logical
  6. we need more research
  7. not my responsibility

  8. that is a MAJOR change

  9. the market is not ready yet

  10. we will consider the option

  11. that’s in our future plans

  12.  since when are you the expert ?

There are more ‘baddies’ out there and you will know them when you hear/use them. Beware anything that dismisses ideas prematurely or prevents collaboration.
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