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Clean Sheet Innovation

By Matt Edison

The best way to innovate is to start with a cleared desk, a fresh cup of coffee, and a clean sheet of paper. And the US health care crisis will be solved by Congress by the end of the month.  The simple fact of the matter is that the human brain just isn't wired for clean sheet innovation.  We innovate by pulling together a wide range of stimulus under the right conditions then look for associations, patterns, inspirations, and discontinuities which lead to hunches. These, with hard work, can turn into opportunities. 

It's likely that your neighborhood now has fiber optic service available up to your house for phone, Internet, and TV. It's incredible to think that a thin strand of glass can carry that much information. Amazing still is the fact that for over 50 years, AT&T and its with world famous Bell Labs invented and innovated and incredible array of technological advances centered on improving communications. Yet the fibers that now dominate how information travels throughout the world were brought into being by a completely unrelated glass company, Corning. Many times the game changing technology comes from the most unlikely of sources. Where are you looking for innovation?

Starting out on the path to innovation requires an analysis of what exists both inside and, most importantly, outside the business. Challenge your management team by wrestling with questions such as, "What makes us unique?", "What are the thought leaders doing?", "If xyz company were in charge, what might they do differently?'", "What if we break the rules?", "What do customers value?", "What are customers saying about the competition?", "What are the nascent or existing technologies that could eventually serve the customer?", and "What's unexpected about our business?"  The greater the diversity of stimuli and participants, the more likely an exponentially greater number of innovative ideas are generated.

But if profits and cash flow are okay today, why bother with working on innovation?  The answer is that 90% of Massachusetts small to medium sized manufacturers don't have a business plan. But the 10% of manufacturers that do construct a business plan find their odds of survival increase to 85%. And innovation is at the heart of every business plan, whether it's finding it, implementing it, or exploiting it. 

To innovate is to be human. It explains all of our achievements as a species. That said, most companies do very little to tap into that impressive innate employee resource. By providing a forum full of shared stimuli, your employees will surprise you with their ideas. Why not give it a try? The costs are small and the results are guaranteed to impress. 

If you would like to learn more about the ideation process, how to participate in a workshop to experience the process first hand, or to engage an experienced facilitator in this innovation process, please contact Innovation Growth Strategies Program Manager Greg King at the Massachusetts MEP at 508-831-7020 or at gregoryk@massmep.org.

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Matt Edison works as the Reactive Silicones Business Manager for Gelest, a specialty chemical manufacturer.  Since 1989, Matt has also worked for DuPont, General Chemical, and Inolex Chemical where his jobs included Plant Manager and Engineering Manager, among others.  In his current role, Matt leads business development projects, manages the company's silicone technology group, and improves the company's business systems.  These duties combine his special interest in aligning resources to realize customer opportunities.  Matt lives in Woodbury, New Jersey with his wife Ellen and their four children. He can be reached at matt.edison@gmail.com.

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