Innovate or die, expert advises

Manufacturers must upgrade continually to succeed, speaker says

CAPCO safety officer John Dansby demonstrates the Grand Junction company’s new grenade launcher at the Western Colorado Manufacturing Summit at Colorado Mesa University.

Every business must innovate continually to stay ahead of competition, and failure to formulate new products, methods and ideas spells death for even the most successful enterprise, an expert on the subject said Thursday.

Sears is one example. A dominating retailer for decades, the company successfully relied on catalog sales to grow for nearly a century, but stumbled in the 1990s when the Internet arrived, refusing until it was too late to make the jump to online sales, said Tamara Kleinberg, an innovation expert who addressed around 100 western Colorado manufacturers attending the third-annual Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Alliance Summit at Colorado Mesa University.

Fortunately, everyone has the ability to innovate, but few understand the mental processes they rely on to create something new, said Kleinberg, founder of The Shuuk, a company that “wakes people up to their ability to innovate and provides them with a launchpad to get those innovations out into the world.”

Kleinberg used 20 years of research and experience in the field to formulate the “Innovation Quotient Edge,” an online test that helps people discover their own innovation style.

Manufacturers attending the summit took Kleinberg’s test. Analyzing the results, she discovered the majority were “tweakers,” closely followed by “inquisitors.” That most of the manufacturers turned out to be tweakers was no surprise, Kleinberg said.

“For tweakers, it’s not about success versus failure,” she said, “It’s about outcomes.” They innovate by constantly editing and revising. “They can’t let things go. There’s always just one little change that needs to be made. They never say to you, ‘That project is done.’ In manufacturing, I think that makes a lot of sense.”

The second largest category of innovators attending the summit were “inquisitors,” Kleinberg said.

“For them, innovation is in the questions, not the answers. They’re very curious, but they’re great innovators because they tend to challenge basic assumptions — nothing for them is at surface level.”

Inquisitors betray themselves because they’re the person in the office who keeps asking questions after a decision is made, even though everyone else is headed for the door. 

“It’s not so much the questions they ask, but they think by asking. While the rest of us have moved on, they’re just digging and digging and digging, but in those questions, they innovate. You need to give them permission to keep asking questions because they can be kind of annoying, but we need them,” Kleinberg said.

In order to outperform and outmaneuver the marketplace, businesses must continue to innovate. They must focus on creating a business with cultures of innovation because if they don’t, “They’re putting themselves on a path to irrelevancy,” she said.


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