Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Innovators

Last Sunday I watched the first episode of Innovatörerna (The Innovators) on TV8. The Innovators is a reality show about two management experts that help companies in a crisis. (Once a show has been aired, it is available for watching at The Innovator's web site. In Swedish though, with no English caption.)

If you have seen Gordon Ramsay take a restaurant at the brink of ruin and whip it into shape, you get the idea. The Innovators are Swedish though, so a whipping is when they say "we are disappointed with you". If they are very upset this may escalate into a devastating "we are really disappointed with you".

In the first episode they helped F.O.V. Fabrics. F.O.V. Fabrics invented the airbag fabric eighteen years ago. At its heyday the company had 300 employees. Today only 75 are left.

When the financial crisis hit the automotive industry, F.O.V. Fabrics saw its market collapse. They had to do something fast, or go out of business. The TV show The Innovators gave them their chance.

What the innovation team, Hans Björkman and Kaj Mickos do is really very simple: They gather people from all over the company, including the people at the workshop floor, and brainstorm to get new product ideas. Then they select the most promising ideas, investigate their market potential, make prototypes, and check if the idea can be patented.

I filmed a similar brainstorming session awhile ago. It has the advantage of being in English:






One thing you will notice, whether you watch The Innovators or my videocasts, is that there is no magic involved, no superhuman effort, just ordinary people coming together and doing very simple, very effective things.

The most difficult part is to break some bad habits. For example, when Hans and Kaj told management to set up a brainstorming meeting with both managers and production personnel, only managers showed up. Management had ignored the request to call production personnel to the meeting.

Kaj and Hans were "very disappointed", and gave the F.O.V. managers five minutes to fix the problem.

Here is the really interesting thing: The brainstorming meeting produced at least three excellent product ideas. At least two of these came from production personnel, two middle-aged ladies. One of them told the TV team this was the first time in her 35 years with the company management had been interested in the ideas of anyone on the factory floor.

I can't help but wonder how much competitive power management inadvertently has repressed over the course of those 35 years. How many great ideas left the company with the 225 people that were let go when management tried to make the company more "cost effective"?

Is your company making the same mistake today? Probably. Can you learn to avoid it? Certainly!

My experience is that while most organizations are in drone mode, the people in them are wonderfully bright, inventive and inquisitive. All you need to do to get fantastic results is to flip the switch to ON. Listen to the people in your organization, actively draw the bright ideas out of them.

Far from being the scourge of your company, the crisis can actually be a great boon to you. It is when people are faced with a crisis that they get the incentive to break old habits, innovate, bring forth their best.

Do you have the will to survive? Do you want to flip the brains to ON in your organization?

If you do, take the first step by calling me at +46 708 56 23 65, or just email me.

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