Greg Kinsey is an industry advisor and executive consultant leading the Hitachi Vantara Manufacturing Practice in EMEA. He and his team work primarily with European industrial companies to help them envision, plan, and execute digital transformations. In his own words, he helps companies become “more lean, more green, more agile, and more productive, using digital tools as the means”.
Greg has over 30 years of experience working with the manufacturing industry, mainly in the automotive, electronics, aerospace, and consumer goods sectors around the world. We had the opportunity to get his thoughts on innovation and why it is so critical, and ways to be more innovative.
What is your vision of innovation in the world saturated by data?
I think in today's world the opportunities to innovate have multiplied significantly because of the rich amount of data that's available, not only to drive that innovation but to be part of the innovation.
If you step back and think about innovations, there are product innovations, process innovations, business model innovations. Integrating data and data tools into those products, processes and business models enables new ways of doing things that we couldn't have dreamed of 20 years ago. My vision is that so far digitalization has accelerated innovation in the world, and I think that trend will continue.
Why is innovation critical?
If you don't innovate, you cannot grow your business. Innovation is critical to create new value for your existing customers and to create new value to attract new customers.
From the user side of things, innovation is critical for continuous improvement. How you use products, how you do your daily work – all those possibilities to improve involve innovation. We also face many environmental challenges in the world, problems which won’t be solved without some serious innovation.
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What are some main roadblocks to innovation?
Most companies struggle to innovate due to multiple factors:
- Management systems and management methods/behaviors do not encourage innovation. Rather, they encourage predictability, cost minimalization, continuity, and risk avoidance - things that often work against innovation.
- Innovation requires a dramatic culture change to allow for more experimentation, controlled risk taking, to allow failures in a controlled way. Also taking practical steps to unlock the human creativity, especially in organizations where people have not been “allowed” to be creative.
- Digital innovation is sometimes thought to be the role of the IT department. This scenario usually fails because most IT departments are not very innovative. The culture of your IT department is the opposite, focused on cost, security, standardization, availability, etc.
Companies need to have a process for innovation – a way to manage an innovation portfolio. I think there are a lot of things that management can do, but it must be a conscious decision and I think the innovation needs to be well scoped. Managers without experience in innovation can learn the required methods and behaviors.
Why is it important for organizations to experiment and not be afraid to make mistakes while innovating?
There are two sides to that coin. First, innovation is about solving problems in new ways. It's about challenging the existing frameworks that you've used to solve those problems in the past.
One of the most important aspects of innovation is to focus on the “job to be done”.
This “job to be done” concept was developed out of the work of Professor Clayton M. Christensen at Harvard Business School. Professor Christensen's work revealed that there are different ways to think about how you can solve a job. The important thing is to focus on the job to be done when defining an innovation project.
For example, do I want a drill, or do I want to have a hole in the wall? Is there a better way to create a hole, other than using a drill? Why do I need a hole? Is there another solution? What is the “job”?
If you lose focus on the job to be done, you can miss opportunities to create true innovations.
Are there particular features leaders should look for when selecting or building a tool for innovation?
I think probably the most important thing in my experience is that tools need to be easy to use.
I have seen complicated solutions being installed where the people that engineered them understood how to use them, but the targeted user community had difficulty because the user experience wasn't what they required or what they expected. We all experience this daily in using consumer web applications or new “features” on our phones.
Stay focused on the job requirements and select tools that match the job to be done. And don't overdo it. I think people sometimes create overly sophisticated tools to do simple jobs.
Any successful innovation project requires understanding your data - interactions of different variables, possibilities, how processes behave, how humans behave, how supply chains behave, how the climate behaves. Whatever it is that you're innovating around, you need to understand and try to model behavior under different conditions.
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Does innovation reside with the research team?
That is an outdated way of thinking – that is, to getting the smartest people and isolating them somewhere, hoping they'll innovate. We've learned a lot since those years of isolated innovation and discovered that innovation happens where people USE products. Visit any train station or factory or distribution hub and talk to the people that work there. Ask them about different problems that they have and how they've solved those problems. You will discover some powerful innovations that they've come up with on their own to solve the problems that they were dealing with to do their job. I think the big lesson is yes, innovation must occur working with people in the operations.
Today, organizational management methods have evolved, and the workers are now not only responsible for coming up with these ideas as part of their job, but they're usually engaged in implementing them and selecting them. And the whole idea of continuous improvement and idea management have evolved to the point where it's been integrated with the daily work in many leading companies. Innovation methods and tools build upon that.
Does listening to the voice of the customer help to innovate?
Relying strictly on the voice of the customer for innovation is not always the best method; it can be too focused on the past ways of thinking, and true innovation opportunities might be missed.
I am seeing an interesting trend in collaborative innovation. The most creative innovators don’t always work in a Fortune 500 company, but you can often find them in start-ups. For example, one Chief Innovation Officer who I advised, set up focused incubators for collaboration with startups. This enabled them to benefit from start-up talent, and the way that they work and the culture that they bring for innovation. In return, the participating startup benefits because the large company becomes its first customer, can serve as a reference, and the startup gets exposed to the real problems the established business is trying to solve for its customers.
Why do some innovations fail to get management buy-in?
Reason 1: Sometimes senior managers are afraid of risk because they spend most of their time managing risk, “putting out fires”, delivering their short-term KPIs, and managing shareholders. The farther you go up the management chain, the is less willingness to take on too many crazy ideas or risky projects. They need to see something convincing that's going to give them the confidence to go because if you jump on all these ideas, there's a very real chance that not all those ideas will be successful, and you'll create some cost and dilution of resources as well.
Reason 2: Besides managing the risks, management must have a strategy in place; generally, it’s a five-year plan and everything needs to support that plan. Somebody might come up with an innovative idea, but if it’s not in support of the strategy, it won’t be endorsed. Which can be frustrating, as every strategy is flawed to some extent. Knowing that, if the strategy dismisses new ideas, it may miss an important change that which you could innovate and exploit.
In summary, what can organizations do to foster a culture of innovation?
Creating a culture of innovation starts with buy-in, and changed behaviors, from top management. This requires a clear shift from relying on the rigid management systems and methods and concrete five-year plans. It requires laser focus on the job to be done, and that includes engaging people from every level of the company, especially the people who do the daily work in the operations. Any successful innovation project requires deep insights into your data – not only insight into the current environment, but also predictions on the impact of changes. One thing to remember is that innovation doesn’t always sprout from the obvious areas. It will often come from surprising places. It is important to keep an open mind and create the space to try new things and question long-standing assumptions.
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Two other interviews with Greg Kinsey have been published:
- Data Science for Everyone: Understanding the Importance of Predictive Analytics. Data analytics are vital to understanding how your business works, and predictive analytics can tell you where your business needs to go. According to Industry Executive Greg Kinsey, with the right tools at your fingertips, anyone can make better decisions that will improve performance and reduce mistakes. Read this blog to learn more >
- Bringing Together IT and Operational Excellence Teams for Successful Digital Transformation. For many people, digital transformation is about looking at new technologies and asking “what can I do with that technology?” Learn why this thinking is backward, according to Greg Kinsey >