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Can the Five Obsessions of Innovators Boost a Manufacturer’s Competitiveness?

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Having founded and built companies that sold collectively for more than $200 million and doggedly researched the subject to write three award-winning books on innovation, Josh discovered successful companies have a systematic process to focus their team’s creativity into practical outputs. He captured the process by outlining five obsessions of innovators in his presentation Innovation and the Future of Manufacturing at this year’s MFG Meeting.

The Five Obsessions of Innovators

  1. Get curious
    Before tackling a project, big or small, pause and ask. “Why? What if? Why not?” Upon answering these questions, new possibilities are unlocked. Conventional wisdom is challenged and “what can be” is imagined instead of “what already is.” Doing something the same way because it works or it’s the way it’s always been done may be a trap.

    He tells the story of Nigerian-American Inventor, CEO and Venture-Capitalist Jessica Mathews, who invented the Soccket, a soccer ball that after minutes of play can be used as a power generator for hours. The idea came to her while attending a wedding in Nigeria. There was a power outage. Diesel generators were turned on to keep the event going, but noxious fumes made it uncomfortable and dangerous. Her curiosity directed her thoughts for a safe environmental solution. The next day while watching Nigerian children play the country’s popular kickball game, she thought about how to capture the energy on the field.

    She continued her drive for innovation and developed a broader range of kinetic-energy-storying products in partnership with experienced manufacturers. This shift included trademarking her system, which uses Soccket's energy-storing method in consumer products beyond toys. In 2016, Matthews’s company Uncharted Play was valued at $57 million.
  2. Crave what’s next
    He advises to let go of “what is” in favor of “what can be.” One way to do this is to plan for an organization’s obsolescence so that new ideas percolate and fresh solutions are born. Consider and borrow ideas from other industries for inspiration. Look for patterns. Perhaps a new method in boarding passengers onto cruise ships could be used in the line of a factory. A metal cutting company designed tools by studying predatory fish like sharks and puranas. When faced with a problem, put two unrelated concepts together to create a new discovery: stick robotics with 3D printing. Amazon is now experimenting with artificial intelligence, sensors and machine learning to create checkout-free grocery stores. “Craving what’s next” may be the source of disruption that puts yourself out of business.
  3. Defy tradition
    Flip a tradition upside down. Do the opposite to uncover terrific opportunities. When facing opportunity, challenges or threats, take the reverse approach to find better results. When dealing with rules, break each one to discover some gems. He tells how one bicycle maker made a list of the bike racing regulations and broke each one to create a high-tech bike with more possibilities. “You can’t look in a new direction by looking in the same direction.”
  4. Get scrappy
    When thinking about innovation, often resources such as raw material, money, headcount, and machine equipment are considered. The real DNA of innovation is grit, determination, tenacity, resilience--internal resources that are true equalizers and the reason start-ups upend industry giants. “Get Scrappy” is about doing more with less. Even big organizations have constrained resources. There is never enough time, money, computer power, or talent. The fewer resources, the greater the creativity. TNT’s award-winning low-budget commercial proved it was all about drama. When faced with a problem: take an orthodox., low-budget approach.
  5. Adapt fast
    Innovation does not come on suddenly like a lightning bolt, but as a small idea deeply flawed. Big innovations are often the result of micro innovations, such as WD-40, which is an abbreviation of “water displacement experiment #40.” Adapting quickly to speed bumps can often leap over the hurdles and turn tragedy into triumph.

    After losing all his money, entrepreneur Tom Lix decided to pursue a passion of fine whiskey and founded Cleveland Whiskey. He could not wait the decade it takes for whiskey to age in charred oak barrels. His need to create whiskey in a matter of days, led him to a new process to produce whiskey. Today, his facility can’t make the whisky fast enough to meet demand and the product is sold at a 30% premium and. He did this in his darkest hour. Think about what you can do at your best!

Linkner’s Challenge to Manufacturers
Linkner urges manufacturers to make innovation a daily habit by creating a safe environment to bring up ideas across departments and unbiased hierarchy. Like a daily exercise regime, regularity drives great results and creates fresh approaches to growth, creativity and transformation. Lastly, treat creativity as a raw material, a source of competitive advantage.

Five obsessions of innovators:

  • Get curious
  • Crave what’s next
  • Defy tradition
  • Get scrappy
  • Adapt fast

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