Necessity is the mother of sustainable innovation

To build a capability of sustainable innovation, the key is to work smarter, not harder, according to this GE engineer.

Innovation is key to staying on top. Senior leadership is constantly looking to grow the business and maintain market share. They need a repeatable and consistent innovation process to generate new products, despite budget and resource cuts.

Needless to say, sustainable innovation is becoming a necessity. Engineering managers must accelerate product development and increase the number of patents filed per year, as these are high priorities to the management team. Every company can meet their business objectives by working smarter, not harder.

  • So, before you take on a project that would meet your corporate objectives, start out by asking the following questions: 
  • How much is a standard process for innovation worth to your business?
  • How much is increased market share or increased sales worth?
  • How much is it worth to beat your competitors to market?
  • How much is it worth to create a totally new market?
  • How much is it worth to get cheaper, faster and better designed products in the customer’s hands first?

Then, understand the real problem that needs to be solved:

  • Get answers to who, what, when, why, where, and how much.
  • Digest the information: look, listen, feel, find, discover, investigate, and research causes.
  • What changes triggered the problems, i.e. pressure, temperature, operator, batch, etc.

What happens to your product, customer or company if you:

  • Do nothing and just ignore the problem
  • Eliminate or solve the problem and record lessons learned versus just get an answer to the problem.

From personal experience, I can tell you that having a sustainable innovation process is critical to gaining market share and driving revenue. Companies without a powerful innovation process claim that innovation is not an exact science or some groups innovate better than others. In reality, innovation can be learned and the process can be repeatable and sustainable.

So how do you establish an innovation process or convince peers that they can improve their haphazard methods of idea generation and problem solving?  People stare at me when I tell them about an innovation platform that empower engineers so they can deliver the right products the first time, or that it can complement their expertise with knowledge and concepts from other  industries as well as serve as a virtual subject matter expert.

As you can imagine, it makes veterans uncomfortable, makes them feel like we are trying to replace them. However, once I show them the software, they can’t wait to get their hands on it.
Believe me, I am not selling a vendor product here. I have been using a tool called Invention Machine Goldfire all through my career, from power-tools and medical devices to solar programs. I have used the innovation software to design new products, identify new markets, solve engineering problems and help drive revenue as well as filed more than 15 patents in one fifth the time it normally takes

I can confidently tell you that once a company has a sustainable innovation process in place, it becomes easier to meet corporate and engineering objectives.

So, based on my experience here are tips for engineers and innovators to accelerate the innovation process:

  • Do not be afraid to leverage technology to complement your skill set or that of your team.
  • Have patience, especially with veterans, when you introduce new tools. If the technology is mind-blowing and helpful, they will come around and in some cases even thank you for introducing them to a new technology.
  • When solving problems, identify the root cause of a problem first and them learn how a company or companies in a different industry solved the problem. This will prevent you from reinventing the wheel.
  • If you are planning to design a green product, leverage biomimicry to see how nature has solved that problem.
  • Use innovation tools like Goldfire to accelerate and sustain the innovation process.

William Hessler is the lead mechanical design engineer at GE Energy, Solar Technologies. He can be reached at [email protected].

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