You Don't Have to Invent--Just Innovate

By: Brad Kuvin

Thursday, July 1, 2010
It’s been stated often, here and everywhere—innovation is the key to prosperity. Just ask Clairon Metals Corp., a metal stamper profiled in this issue (beginning on page 8), which stepped up its innovative journey a few years ago with the acquisition of new press-automation controls. Year after year since, results are impressive:

  • Production efficiency: Up 30 percent.

  • Die crashes: Slashed by 75 percent.

  • Die-repair costs: Down 60 percent.

“It’s amazing how one relatively simple and affordable change like new press controls can change everything you do in your facility,” I was told by Clairon tooling manager John Butler. It’s a great story about how continuous, incremental innovation can create a domino effect that adds value day after day.

Change that adds value is exactly how Roger La Salle, the creator of the Matrix Thinking technique and an internationally recognized speaker, defines innovation. La Salle writes eloquently about the differences between the “big I” (Invention) and the “little i” (innovation) on his blog. Visit his website, at www.matrixthinking.com, for the complete story.

I’ll get right to the punch line: The “little i,” representing incremental improvements, is far easier to manage than the “big ‘I” (or more landscape-changing innovations), and carries far less risk.

What’s the risk of “big I” actions? Consider the hard lesson learned recently by sporting-goods giant Adidas, which has found that the line separating invention and innovation can easily become blurred.

Anticipating June’s World Cup soccer tournament, Popular Mechanics reported on the unveiling earlier this year of what Adidas hoped would be crowned the “perfect soccer ball.” The firm used a wind tunnel to help create a “highly calibrated soccer ball,” says t.he article, offering optimal roundness and stable flight.

However, this new innovative ball seems to teeter on invention, beyond just tinkering with what was really invented decades ago. Adidas, rather than sticking with the traditional 32 hand-stitched panels, developed a ball with eight thermally bonded sections. What happened when the ball made its onto the pitch? Players called it “erratic,” with more than one comparing it to those bought at a common supermarket. Outside of the wind tunnel, players said the ball “moves too much and makes it difficult to control.”

Great metaphor there: Don’t look to make changes to your processes and procedures that “move too much” and become “difficult to control.” Loosen the reins as necessary to innovate and improve—as Clairon Metals has done —and do so on a continuing basis, day in and day out. That’s the ticket to prosperity.


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