As you are reading this, at least six academics and a dozen consultants are probably writing up case studies and white papers on the body shop’s ‘innovation’ – the current big time management fad. CEO’s should be building innovative organizations, and every one will compete on the basis of innovation. Thinkers of great thoughts are agonizing over individual innovation versus organizational innovation. IBM has remade their their entire carnival spiel around innovation. They are now the "Innovator’s Innovator". Pretty innovative slogan, don’t ya’ think?
The business world is paying homage to the great innovator Bill Gates this weekend following the announcement that he is stepping down from his Microsoft management role. He is certainly deserving of all the adulation, and there is no question that his success is the result of extraordinary innovation. Bill Gates and Paul Allen were not the only people tinkering in the basement with way outside the box computer ideas back in the 70’s, however. Bill Gates road to success is lined with the tombstones of other innovators. There were thousands of others working just as feverishly and almost as brilliantly. For a range of reasons, most of the others failed. According to the thesaurus, one synonym for ‘innovate’ is ‘pioneer’. Pioneers are always easy to spot. They are the ones along the side of the trail with the arrows in their backs.
Why should a manufacturer decide that its entire future hinges on the high risk strategy of adding to the innovation pool? The problem with manufacturing is hardly a lack of innovation – there are plenty of great innovations laying around for the taking. The problem is that powerful innovations take place every day everywhere, and manufacturers fail to see them, or fail to appreciate them, or find themselves unable to take advantage of them. The Toyota Production System was a fantastic management innovation that, despite its demonstrated strength and near universal applicability, is still almost exclusively limited to Toyota.