“Innovation” is one of my favourite “I” words, but it’s not my most favourite—it doesn’t even make the top three. It is one of what I consider as being in the middle three “I” words. It’s a group just behind the top three, but just ahead of the bottom three.
So here are my favourite “I” words, starting with the bottom three: “Income,” “Incentive” and “Industry.” These are the desired outcomes from all of our working, business development and entrepreneurial efforts—it always comes down to one of these three words. It’s the fruit of our labour or the return on our investment. It’s what pays the bills and causes us to go to work each day, whether we enjoy our job or not. Individually, it’s the generation of income. Collectively, it’s the creation or propagation of industry.
“Innovation,” “Ideas” and “Improvement” are the middle three. These are the words we credit for the success of our income-generating activities, and our industry’s too. We have come to learn that we can’t keep doing things the same way they used to be done, or the same way that other people do them, because if we did, we would eventually fail. In North America, we will never win the price game and good quality is already considered a given. Having a good product, with good quality and good service is often not enough these days. It’s only a matter of time before someone else recognizes your formula for success, and then they’ll aim to deliver a product or service slightly better than you are, or slightly cheaper, or with slightly better service. The only way to stay one step ahead is through new ideas, or innovation, or through a continuous improvement philosophy that encompasses more than just your production processes. Innovation and improvement require a constant supply of fresh ideas and a commitment to investigate and sift through all the new ideas that come into the new idea hopper. Sometimes it astounds me how many companies I encounter profess a commitment to “Innovation” and “Improvement” but in practice are at best reluctant or at worst averse to considering any new ideas that might change their current paradigms. In a world where manufacturing capacity exceeds demand (likely for the first time in history!), sustainability is not assured by continuous improvements or incremental innovation alone, because everyone else is doing those things too. Every now and then, we need a market-making or game-changing idea—and they come from the top three “I” words.
“Inspiration,” “Insight” and “Imagination.” These are my favourite “I” words. It’s where ideas come from—they come from some place magical. You can’t learn it, or teach it; all you can do is foster a culture and attitude that is receptive to them, embraces them and has the courage and discipline to apply enough energy and resources to them to see what might happen with the wisps of ideas that come from them. Inspiration is often defined as a divine influence. Insight is thought of as self-awareness or having a clear perception. I think it’s both; it’s a matter of looking inside yourself and being honest with what you see. Imagination is the ability to form new images that are not perceived through your regular five senses (your sight, hearing, etc.). New ideas come from the top three “I” words. When you see something and it triggers a “that’s it!” sensation inside of you, that’s your insight alerting you and telling you to take notice. When something comes to mind that didn’t get to you through your five senses, it was formed in your imagination, or it was inspired into you.
It’s safe to say that in manufacturing today, our primary focus is on the bottom three “I” words of income, incentive and industry. When we are facing some pressure to change, we adjust our sights just a little bit and challenge our organizations to also think about things like new ideas, improvement and innovation. But to differentiate yourself from all the other companies (remember, they also spend time on the middle three “I” words), you have to adjust your sights even higher, and start to tap into the power of the top three—my favourite “I” words.
This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.