When is an idea truly an innovation?

By: Saadia Muzaffar

Anyone can toss about ideas. But not everyone—or every company culture—is able to generate innovative and practical ideas that are truly game-changing. I asked Tim Scott, RIC’s Entrepreneur in Residence, who has 28 years of experience in the manufacturing sector, to simplify the difference between an innovative idea and just any simple change:

Coby Segall from Psion speaks about innovation in the manufacturing sector. Click to play.

Take the example of the humble screwdriver you use. It’s a Robertson so it fits the equipment you work with, and it comes in a particular length with a certain size of handle. Your idea could be to change it to a Philips head but that wouldn’t make sense—you’d have to replace everything in order to use it. Your idea could be to make it heavier, or longer, but those are minor modifications, not new ideas. But what if your idea was to give it universal bits? That would take a simple piece of equipment to a whole new level. You’d still be able to continue what you’re already successfully doing, as well as expand your capabilities.

Innovative ideas do exactly that. They change the dynamic of what you do without discarding what you already have and in doing so, they take you into new markets and expand your potential. But you need a methodical and pragmatic process for coming up with new ideas, and specific questions and rating scales to assess if the new idea will integrate into what you’ve already got without significantly shifting your technology.

Ask any advanced manufacturing company, “Is innovation important to you?” and they’re certain to answer, “Yes, it’s a priority.” Many, however, have difficulty with the steps needed to deliberately bring an idea to fruition as well as the culture required to encourage innovation in the first place.

It takes much more than a simply brainstorming exercise once a year. You need to set up an environment for thinking about the possibilities then implement a purposeful and controlled method for developing ideas, comparing ideas, and knowing when to say “go” or “no go” to a potential project.

Companies large or small can learn from Psion, the global mobile technology company that beginning with the invention of the PDA, has developed a reputation for being a true innovator. Within the company, Psion provides an internal process where everyone is encouraged to submit ideas that have the potential to become projects within a few days. Psion’s online forum, Ingenuity Working, was set up by precisely for idea evaluation. The social network harnesses the brainpower of its internal community— 900 employees— as well as its external community of partners and customers around the world that comment on new technology and ideas.

Coby Segall, Group Lead – Research and Innovation at Psion Canada, knows first hand about building a culture of innovation for idea generation then turning ideas into projects. When asked about the best way to create the right environment for encouraging new ideas, Coby provides these recommendations:

1. Make sure that employees have a good understanding of their market.
2. Make sure that your company has a good understanding of new and existing technology relevant to your market.
3. Empower all company employees to contribute ideas towards improving products and solving customer problems in new ways.
4. Take these ideas and turn them into real projects to show employees that their ideas are important, and can make a difference.

Join us next week, when  advanced manufacturers meet to learn practical tips on how to kick start innovation within their companies. The presentation, “How New Ideas are Formed and Where to Find Them”, will take attendees through an idea generation pathway that’s practical, realistic, and stimulates your thinking process.

Innovate Forward is a 6-session program designed to kick-start ideas and nurture innovation within advanced manufacturing. All sessions are held at the Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Design Technologies, Sheridan College, Brampton. Each is targeted towards entrepreneurs developing innovative technologies in the advanced manufacturing sector, with the intention of fostering ideas, sharing successes and failures, and gaining mentoring support.

Register for Session II, Feb. 23

Saadia joins the RIC team as the Operations Coordinator responsible for building and execution of activities that fulfill RIC’s mandate. She brings several years of relationship management, corporate communications and operations experience mainly from the financial services industry.  

  The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit Altitude Accelerator for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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