Teamwork toward innovation

The world of 2018 is the world of NOW. Whether it is consumer goods, food, transportation, even dating, we expect everything NOW.

Companies that have real-time, agile operations throughout their entire value chain will prevail. And yet, organizations continually fail to introduce innovation into their current operations. 

First, there is the drag of routine. We see many companies that have been around a long time, doing the same thing the same way for decades. This doesn’t fuel innovation.

Then there is the fact that, for the past several decades, many of us have been focused on cost reductions as a remedy to investment-community pressures and global competition. This has resulted in workforce reductions that leave no one left to experiment with new operations technologies. Maxed-out teams that are swamped with merely keeping the trains running on time can hardly be tasked with tracking, researching and experimenting with complex new technologies.

The result? The optimism of early engagements dies on the vine. And it’s nobody’s fault.

We know our future competitiveness relies on real-time data feeds via the IIoT, robotics, edge-intelligent automation and big-data analytics. The challenge is finding ways to take advantage.

One solution is setting up small, dedicated teams for thinking out-of-the-box about current operations, then tasking these teams with innovation experiments, ideally completely non-disruptively to current ops. (Dream with me…please.) The history of change and innovation is rife with such dedicated “skunkworks” teams, from Lockheed’s SR-71 to the Macintosh group with the pirate flag flying above the building. 

Staffing these teams with a mix of young, tech-savvy workers and experienced “old-timers” is critical. Such teams enable knowledge-transfer across generations. And, in addition to the work they perform and the innovations they might launch, these teams can attract to manufacturing facilities the emerging Facebook generation. Like!

Short-term wins validate rollouts of these initiatives. I suggest targeting low-hanging fruit. Invest in continuous education of the workforce. And remember that innovation is terrific, but it requires the dedication of resources to make it a reality.

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