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What Did You Do This Year?

What Did You Do This Year?

| On 18, Dec 2007

Jack Hipple

What Have You Done in the Past Year?

It’s nearing the end of 2007 and it’s been a turbulent year for many businesses and organizations. Everyone seems to recognize the critical role that innovation plays in the long term survival of an organization. It’s time for an audit.

What did you do and accomplish in 2007?  Did you encourage anyone in your organization to step outside their normal box and evaluate an opportunity that looks a little risky? What happened to them? Have you thought about what you are going to do to sustain your innovation effort when the inevitable recession occurs? Are you preparing outplacement plans or are you asking people right now how you could reduce your costs by 50%? That’s no less an innovation challenge than a glamorous new product!

Do you know what your FUNCTIONAL core competencies are? What else can they be used for? Have you identified the biggest threat, not to you, but to your customer? What can you do to assist them? What materials do you use and buy that could be eliminated, but their function still performed? What scarce or unique raw materials are going to get caught up in the global surge for the same materials (rare metals is an example)? How are you going to react to a dramatic increase in price or non-availability? How will your business change?

Your business is focused to a major extent on helping a customer achieve a desired function, NOT to supply a product–a major mistake in focus we frequently make. How else could that function be achieved? If your product or service was suddenly unavailable to your customer, what would they do? If you don’t know the answer to that question, you’re in a lot of trouble long term.

Many of these questions, which should drive a major part of our innovation efforts, are independent of the world economy. China’s need for platinum for catalytic converters for the millions of its cars that don’t exist yet will have a dramatic impact on users of platinum for high volume, low volume commodity chemicals and plastics that we take for granted. I realize that this assumes this requirement will come, and I bet it will sooner or later. Innovation is about the future. Given this opportunity or threat, depending upon how you want to look at it, there’s a huge incentive to develop an alternative way of eliminating exhaust emissions. A basic change in car design is one, and if you’re a supplier of platinum, you have huge incentive to understand all of this. There’s also a huge incentive to develop alternative chemical processes. Think about the parallels in your businesses.

Do your people now believe you and your organization are serious about innovation? The audits that I’ve been involved with frequently show a hug gap between senior management’s views and those of the troops in the trenches. Regardless of what you plan, what do your people think you are going to do with the innovation efforts when business goes sour? Refocus it, or eliminate the “program”? It’s time to sit back for a few minutes and reflect on the past year and ask if you have poured the foundation for innovation or just a sand pile that will collapse when the sea of change (in whatever form) comes.