Innovation – are you really up for it?

3 November 2010
Being a person of a certain age that remembers exactly what happened in 1972 but can’t recall what meetings I went to yesterday, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with innovation in my personal life. I still love my vinyl records (listening to Neil Young’s Freedom now in case anybody is interested), I didn’t join the CD generation but I love my iPod and the range of stuff I can get from YouTube. On a professional level the idea of innovation to support sustainability (eco-innovation is the fashionable term) fascinates me. I recently had a captivating discussion with a potential client who was very interested and passionate about eco-innovation and wanted some help to get more of it into her supply chain. We had a long conversation about how all this may work when she added “… but of course we would expect the product to have a three-year track record of reliable service, that’s our minimum standard”. By definition it can’t be innovative can it? Needless to say we did not take the conversation much further and I had to put the time down to experience of dealing with yet another procurement professional that does not get it or does not have the courage or authority to take a risk. Innovation is all about risk; if you don’t have an appetite for risk then there is no point pretending you are encouraging eco-innovation or any other sort of innovation for that matter. It is about finding out what the market may be able to provide in the future rather than specifying things you have always had. To quote Henry Ford: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have asked for more horses.” Are you the sort of buyer who asks for more horses? Or will you take a chance on something new? It is not all bad news. I have been leading a project recently called “Green Dragons” – something I’ve raised on my blog here before. You can see a video here. The format is a bit like Dragons’ Den on the TV, CPOs get to quiz small suppliers of innovative products and decide if they are interested in having the product in their supply chain. This bit is all great fun but to be honest that is just the beginning, positioning the product at an appropriate point in the supply chain, dealing with sceptical technical people and others is a long haul but it is worth the effort when you help a small, truly innovative supplier break new ground, deliver cost savings, environmental benefits, new jobs and local prosperity. I am bidding for a big package of EU funding to do more of this next year. Watch this space. If we are successful we may be knocking on your door. Having tired of the efforts of commercial conference organisers over the past few years, I have decided to stage my own event. One of the panel sessions will be all about innovation where I will be able to get some friends and colleagues from organisations I admire and challenge them in public to tell us how innovation will play a part in all our futures and what the barriers are. It will be great to have key people from Marks & Spencer, GE, Nokia and Adidas alongside government officials to discuss the real issues we face rather than the bland “death by PowerPoint” served up at many conferences these days. I think this subject has a long way to go and I will bring you news of my experience in this area in future blogs.
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Ministry of Defence: Defence Infrastructure Organisation
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