Over the past 48 hours I have had the honor to connect with the leadership of four World Class Innovators - one in the UK and three in the USA. All four of these companies are wildly successful. And I mean wildly successful not just "successful." All four are the most innovative and successful in their industry. All four are passionate about Innovation Engineering. All four have offerings that are meaningfully unique. And yes have offerings that "customers are willing to pay more money for."
Because of their success with Innovation - they are each interested in Innovation Engineering as a means for increasing their success. Each has a different perspective - each is inspirational in their own way.
Innovation Leader #1: The Innovation FANATIC. In the 30+ years that I've worked on innovation I can't think of anyone who is more consistently bold and innovative than Ken Grier of Edrington. (in photo to the right). Ken leads their Malt group (The Macallan and Highland Park).
Where others play it safe Ken thinks bold. He drives innovation with a relentlessness and a passion that has no boundaries. And he does this on brands that are so premium and so successful that a "normal" person would play it safe. But safe loses in today's marketplace. If you want to grow like a start up you need never ending innovation.
Ken has innovation in his veins. He knows that never ending growth in sales and profits (awe inspiring numbers by the way) comes from being proactive not reactive. From The Macallan Fine Oak, to Lalique Decanters, to Macallan Masters of Photography, to the appearances of The Macallan in the latest James Bond Movie and academy award winning Argo, to the rocket growth of Highland Park to his latest innovation - described below Ken does not believe that "if it's not broke don't break it."
His latest innovation is The Macallan Flask - see in the photo below.
Now when you think The Macallan and Flask you probably imagine a quaint sterling silver flask for country gentlemen. That would be wrong. Ken took a different course - he partnered with designers from Oakley to create a Flask that is like nothing else on earth. It is contemporary, it's bold and it has some of the most amazing precision tooling I've ever seen -- you have to see how it opens and how the funnel for filling precision fits to believe it.
You can learn about it here
http://www.themacallan.com/home.aspx But a cool flask is not enough. Ken worked with the Oackley team to create a video that brings the engineering and quality to life in a way like no other flask on earth.
If you do nothing else - click on this link to watch this youtube video. As you watch it - remember this is the World's Most Precious Whisky.....YOU HAVE TO SEE IT TO BELIEVE IT!!!!!!
And Ken's not done yet -- he recently attended the Innovation Engineering Retreat with his team - and has already signed up for the Innovation Engineering Black Belt program - because he knows that Leading Innovation is the most important job of the Leader.
(Note if you're thinking of get one buy now - Ken advises that over half have sold out already and as you'd expect it's a limited edition:).
Full disclosure - I have worked with Ken for over a dozen years - and yes sitting at Threshfields Pub at the Eureka! Ranch is The Macallan Flask -- it's wicked cool.
The lesson from Ken is - GO BIGGER - GO FASTER. 1 and 2 % growth is for losers if you want double digit growth in sales and profits every year - year after year you MUST innovate.
Innovation Leader #2: The SYSTEM Geniuses
Two days ago I met with the leadership of a USA company that is in the process of growing a culture of Never Ending Innovation using Innovation Engineering. Note - it's not because they are failing - they're not. They are the most innovative in their industry and their business results show it.
What sets them apart from others is their grounding in systemic solutions. Where other companies would push for quick cures - this company digs deep. They realize that they can't create a sustainable innovation culture without digging deep into how they work.
Where other companies focus 99% of their energy on finding the next big new product - this company focuses on driving ideas. However they have an equal interest in innovating their systems for how they manage. They are aligning every department towards helping increase innovation speed and decrease risk. They are doing Forensic Analysis of what has been the systemic causes of success and failure in the past - making systemic improvements to their Stage Gate system to make it more responsive and effective - translating their patents into one page Business plans that can be understood in 2 minutes or less - creating Innovation Supply Chains that can drive open innovation - creating employee collaboration systems based on the state of the art in what drives sustained success - and the list goes on and on.
The lesson from them is - 94% of the problem is the system - 6% the worker. A small team can be successful for a period of time. However, if you want sustained success you need to work on your internal systems. Sustained success comes from creating a transformation of mindset - in operational systems as much as in new products and services.
Innovation Leader #3: The PROACTIVE Leader
Yesterday I had the honor of meeting with the CEO and President of a company that despite having great sales results - proactively changed the name of the company - so to set it up for longer term growth. It was a difficult decision - however as he said "in the end it was up to me to make the decision." His pro activeness doesn't end there. He has me doing an event with his top leadership because he feels that while they are the top innovator in their industry they need to accelerate their system for innovation. He's set a goal of 10% of sales each year from a product or service that they didn't have the year before (in line with what 4 research studies have found that well managed companies - growth companies achieve 40% of sales from products they didn't have 3 years before.)
During our meeting - I suggested that we do an in depth assessment (an expanded version of the one most of you are familiar with) to get a deeper understanding of what areas the organization needed the most help with. During our review the CEO realized that there was a good chance that not all the data would be good.
I pointed out a couple of the dimensions in the survey and explained if these turned out to be bad then the responsibility for them would be ....and I paused. With out hesitation the CEO said "the responsibility would be mine. It would be my job to address."
WOW! In an instant I realized that this company's incredible sales and profit growth was not an accident. But rather it was because of proactive leadership.
The lesson is - The Bottle Neck is Always at the Top of the Bottle. To be a Leader you need to LEAD. And nothing is a better measure of a leader then their innovation track record and pipeline. Innovation is change - it's about leading the company into the future. It's about setting up the company for sustained and continued growth in the future.
Innovation Leader #4: The Smart Innovator
Yesterday afternoon I met with a VP of R&D. He and members of his team have attended Innovation Engineering Leadership Institute and applied much of what they learned into their process. He reported that patent filings had increased 4X as a result of what they learned. He explained that every Wednesday they get together to use the IE Tools to create ideas and problem solve challenges.
The purpose of our conversation was he is looking to go faster and smarter. He explained that while they have an incredible success rate - their current processes are "best in class" - circa 1995.
We had an aggressive conversation - aggressive in cross learning in a positive way. He explained the"root cause" of some of his challenges - I offered perspective on what I'd seen work in other industrial companies of his size. One moment we were talking broader cultural strategy the next we were talking tactical specifics. The conversation had an honesty that came from two people who had a common mission - to innovate smarter and faster.
The conversation was smart. It was very, very smart. I learned as much from him as he did from me.
The lesson - think! Think! Think! No matter how successful you are - remember "you don't know" - "you need help" --- work together. This world class innovator - like the
In closing - In the Deming videos it's said that Dr. Deming often learned as much from his clients as they did from him. Every week I understand that more and more. The more I meet with those who are on the front lines - the more I learn. The key is to be open to learning.
Your homework for the next 24 hours is to go LEARN. Talk to vendors, customers, front line employees with an openness to learn. Don't be surprised if you're amazed by what you find out.
I thank all four of the organizations for helping me get smarter!
And I look forward to every meeting I have with them.
p.s. All this writing has me thirsty -- is it 5:00 yet?