Yesterday I talked about two examples of fantastic supplier innovation, and it really got me in the innovation mindset. I loved the idea of companies turning to their supply base for the latest innovations, so I thought I would take that idea further and explore some amazing examples of collaborative innovation. Be it from suppliers, customers, or just the general public.
- The first example comes from General Electric with their Ecomagination Challenge. Ecomagination is a $200 million innovation experiment focused on enhancing the productivity of resources, and reducing the environmental impact of resource use. The way they create these solutions? Through an idea share between businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators, and students. It’s collaboration which is saving the planet, what’s not to love?
- Unilever is another brand with huge sustainability ambitions, and they express it with their Open Innovation program. Sustainability is at the heart of Unilever’s innovation, as every innovation attempts to make a positive impact on the environment. As it says in its name Unilever’s innovation program is open, meaning that anyone with an idea that can help them meet Unilever’s challenges can put their idea forward. It’s about the strength of the idea, and not of the people behind it.
- After nearing bankruptcy LEGO used innovation-encouraging techniques to turn the situation around. LEGO created LEGO ambassadors, a group of select fans who act as vessels for communication between LEGO and the wider community. Not only does this allow LEGO inside insight into their fan base, it also created added value for the fans, and acts as a reward system for the most loyal fans. Though LEGO’s most impressive innovation project has to be crowdsourcing. When LEGO introduced LEGO mindstorms, hackers began using the new release to hack the system, and customise it. Once LEGO realised they couldn’t fight this community of intelligent hackers, they instead began harnessing the creativity of the hackers to improve their product instead. Through collaboration LEGO managed to avoid a war with intelligent hackers, and got genius improvements on their products in exchange.
LEGO’s use of crowdsourcing shows that sometimes the best sources of innovation are the people who love the product, the people who know the product inside out. The same could be said of our suppliers. They’re the heart of our company, and they know our products like the back of their hand. They’re a mine of value which we need to tap into, and yet the supply base is a source of innovation that some companies seem unwilling, or unable, to access.
So what can we do? I’ve previously discussed the importance of highlighting the problem that we want solved, instead of focusing on the solution. From the use of fire, which obviously arose out of the pressing need to cook our food, to the mobile phone which allowed people, who were increasingly on-the-go, to communicate on the move, innovation is often spurred on by the need to solve a pressing problem.
The best thing we can do is make SRM a key focus for our company, and a strategic one at that. If you get your suppliers on board, and ensure they understand the interior workings of the company, then when a need arises your suppliers will have the answer.
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