Let’s not beat around the bush: No competent company actually innovates for the sake of innovating.
What people are really afraid of nowadays is innovation that doesn’t actually deliver!
Imagine, for example, you decide to invest in a costly SCM software solution. It’s even a hybrid one where you are both paying a 3rd party vendor and still investing in costs of on-premise infrastructure.
Despite that, your managers are still scratching their heads on how perceived greater discipline and less flexibility actually improve their work. Any improvements you may have made towards lean production seem barely noticeable. Worst of all, you hear the team in the corridors saying the old way of doing things would’ve been much more preferable! (Sadly, in 2018 in Supply Chains globally we have all been here!)
How does one avoid this embarrassing, humiliating and career compromising outcome?
Alas, there is no simple answer.
One thing is simple enough, though. Innovation should never be abandoned. If you feel that your current way of doing things is dragging you behind competitors, then you need to improve. You need to innovate. That is where it starts, no matter how many skeptics will cringe at the idea.
Greg Satell in the HBR writes eloquently about the most amazing story of innovation that he’s ever heard. It goes like this:
‘One of the best innovation stories I’ve ever heard came to me from a senior executive at a leading tech firm. Apparently, his company had won a million-dollar contract to design a sensor that could detect pollutants at very small concentrations underwater. It was an unusually complex problem, so the firm set up a team of crack microchip designers, and they started putting their heads together.
About 45 minutes into their first working session, the marine biologist assigned to their team walked in with a bag of clams and set them on the table. Seeing the confused looks of the chip designers, he explained that clams can detect pollutants at just a few parts per million, and when that happens, they open their shells.
As it turned out, they didn’t really need a fancy chip to detect pollutants — just a simple one that could alert the system to clams opening their shells. “They saved $999,000 and ate the clams for dinner,” the executive told me.
That, in essence, is the value of open innovation. When you have a really tough problem, it often helps to expand skill domains beyond specialists in a single field. Many believe it is just these kinds of unlikely combinations that are key to coming up with breakthroughs. In fact, a study analyzing 17.9 million scientific papers found that the most highly cited work tended to be mostly rooted within a traditional field, with just a smidgen of insight taken from some unconventional place.’
So what can we learn from this and apply it to innovation in supply chains?
Well, I accept it’s unlikely that we will have a marine scientist, randomly wandering the corridors of a logistics firm. However, we will soon be looking at sensors for our various transport modes and to collect the different types of information that will need to be provided into our big data sets. This will then give ourselves (and our ‘clients of big data’) the necessary information required to drive their own strategic competitive advantage.
Furthermore, there can be no doubt that even our supply chain world is going to have to think bigger. We are going to have to stop deferring to the old-fashioned, tired solutions of the past.At best, these ‘solutions’ only provide a short term gain that is unsustainable in any business. What we really need is a breakthrough solution, once and for all!
So what are the types of innovation problems we have in supply chains and where should we start?
Satell writes about the four types of innovation that actually exist and how we can work out what type of innovation to apply to our specific supply chain related issues.
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