Here’s an adaptation of my May CAMagazine article, which was titled “From Bombs to Beauty” in the print edition.
March was an interesting month for me. One day I was in Dayton, Ohio, opening the annual leadership meeting for the US Air Force Research Laboratory.
In the room were senior military officers, scientists and researchers who control virtually all the research spending for the entire air force.
The next day I was in West Palm Beach, Fla., as the closing speaker for the Personal Care Products Council, with senior executives from the cosmetics, toiletries and other personal-care products industry.
Talk about going from one extreme to another. But it certainly provides insight into one of the key trends sweeping the corporate and scientific world today. There’s a belief that if we think broader — observe what is occurring in other industries, for example — we might see more opportunities to change what we do and how we do it, rather than continue to think in narrow terms.
So what’s my role? As someone who sees the world in extremely broad terms rather than through a narrow industry lens, I can provide many organizations with different points on view. This is a critical and important skill – I often find myself immersed in a wide variety of complex circumstances in a vast range of industries, and have learned to quickly develop the capability to observe key issues within those industries, assess different strategies and come up with solutions to complex problems.
So it is with the corporate and government world today. People find themselves in a place where change is occurring at a blinding pace. New ideas, business models, industries and products are launched faster than ever. And it’s by learning how to observe and understand change from a variety of perspectives that organizations can get ahead.
Consider the world of defence spending, where there is a great deal of budgetary pressure to continue to move forward but to do so with new spending restraints. Organizations ask themselves questions such as, what can we learn from other organizations outside the defence industry that have scientists and engineers? How are they generating innovation ideas? How are they responding to similar pressures? Sometimes the concept of customer-oriented innovation plays a role. Maybe, goes the thinking, we’ll find one customer using a product in a unique way that no one else is thinking about, and we could take that idea to the rest of our customer base.
Then there is the issue of innovation within the consumer products sector — such as cosmetics and beauty products. Today, customers are more vocal with opinions; fashion tends to evolve faster; new ideas go from the runway to the shelf much faster. In this case, we’ve got an industry looking around to see where the next marketing, branding, product or customer-support ideas might come from. And they’re influenced by other industries — there’s a marriage of technology, healthcare and beauty for example. Imagine a new piece of jewellery in the not-too-distant future that doubles as a medical monitoring device.
In both cases, we’ve got groups of people who, five years earlier, might have based their progress on how things looked inside their organization or industry. Today, they’ve realized they’ve got to look wider; not narrowly, but from a very broad perspective. That’s why concepts such as customer innovation, open innovation and other new models for idea generation are becoming so important.
And that’s why, in the space of just two days, I can find myself delivering two keynotes on very much the same innovation theme to two very, very different groups.