Here is the latest of Salt’sIdeas Essays: 15 pieces of expert thought leadership on the innovations and ideas that will change the world for the better. You cannot force great ideas, you have to harvest them writes Stuart Sawyer the maker of orange ‘Flubber’ and CEO of D3O.
Innovation is in the blood (or goo) of D3O, a company fundamentally built on innovation. We see innovation as a culture, not a process or a silo.
Integrating a non-Newtonian liquid into polymers to make rate sensitive elastomers (flexible materials that go hard when you hit them to protect you and your things) still sounds crazy 10 years after D3O was founded on exactly that idea.
WHERE DOES INNOVATION COME FROM?
Innovation comes from everyone. We are all equally capable of being creative. The larger the team is the more creative a company can be. Fostering innovation internally is key and to be a successful and innovative company it must remain open to other ideas and be aware of where these opinions can originate from. The spark of an idea can come from a plethora of platforms. It may be feedback from a large customer, a supplier or even a social media comment, but what makes the difference is having the right company structure in place to harvest the ideas and progress the innovations. That means giving time and resource to allow that to happen. The clever part is maintaining innovation while ensuring the business performs to its objectives and continues to grow.
Ideas need to be encouraged. Anyone can have a brilliant product or idea – but it needs innovative thinkers to continually develop and evolve it. A business needs to foster a creative environment if it wants a continuous flow of innovation. This only happens in an atmosphere where it’s okay to dream… and it’s okay to fail. Allowing failure to happen is a key part of true innovation because it means we have gone outside the boundaries.
Structure any new development to answer the important questions first, and fail fast. This is as true for product development as it is for software. If it is going to be okay to fail then it is important to work within an organisation that asks very hard questions early in the process as well as stage gating and feasibility gates.
To spend a year solving a detail before the company knows if a fundamental requirement is even possible is wasted time. If the answer to a fundamental question is not clear then take the time to figure out how to answer it. Do not spend time solving a less important question just because someone knows how to solve it. A degree of direction on where to focus innovation goes a long way to meet a company’s strategic goals.
D3O has gained a huge portion of its growth by moving into new markets, expanding its patent portfolio and bringing its technology to new material carriers for new solutions. It could be argued that innovation is its day-to-day business. But what is essential is managing the risk by only moving forward on innovation that has a good chance of adding value and more and wider intellectual property.
Challenge the process In order to do this, challenging designers to ‘de-risk’ a project is an integral part of the product development process. To some this may seem a negative strategy, but it can have the opposite effect. If an idea cannot be tested until very late in the design process it may be considered too high risk for the company to progress. By forcing the production of a functional prototype, quick sprints to the next gate within the first month of development, not only will the company have a less risky project, but it will have found a cheaper, faster way to manufacture it, and at the same time realise how to make the prototype.
Innovation should be a culture and not a process.You cannot force a great idea, you harvest them. But you can force the structure and ethos of the company to enable an environment for innovation, that’s how we continue to catch up with the future.
KEYS TO INNOVATION
- Create an environment where it’s safe to dream and fail.
- Allow enough time and resource for ideas to happen.
- Manage risk by only moving forward on innovation that has a good chance of adding value.
About Stuart Sawyer
Stuart Sawyer is CEO of D3O, a company that produces a bright orange putty that is soft when handled slowly but stiffens immediately when hit. The patented gel is used for shock absorption and impact protection across a range of applications, including snowboarding wear, military grade smartphone cases and performance trainers.