Successful Innovation in High Value Manufacturing seems due to Luck Alone - The Three Monkeys Rule and Elephants Dance on the Table...


Dear all – maybe in most innovation efforts we should just cut our losses and do something more satisfying?
I recently went through a short Innovation Diffusion Assessment with a close friend who is a department head at a German third generation medium sized family owned and led manufacturer of printed plastic components for the transportation industry  (see Litmus Test Version 3 at https://open-european-innovation-network.blogspot.com/2020/06/innovation-diffusion-litmus-test_10.html). Initially I was truly enthusiastic about perhaps being able to support, however in the end I was grateful not to need to get further involved... 
We were discussing a planned project to introduce a highly novel effort to print with plastic/metal mixtures for a specific challenge given by a major client. The results of the assessment were at a maturity level of 2 since although the product maturity was quite high, the population web maturity was very low (for explanation see the pre-publication draft of "A Maturity Model for Rapid Diffusion of Innovation in High Value Manufacturing” for CIRPe 2020 – 8th CIRP Global Web Conference – Flexible Mass Customization" available at  https://innovation-web.eu/procir_cirpe_2020_innovation_diffusion_maturity-model_oschwabe-20200611-submitted.  While this is not unusual when exploring innovations, this specific effort was about to launch (tomorrow in fact) with significant funding made available and with high tactical importance for the company as it desperately sought new revenue opportunities in an extremely difficult economic position.
After running through the assessment we began discussing the (low) success rate of previous innovation efforts and ended up realizing that (a) leadership were BLIND in respect to the inability of product managers to robustly deliver programs, (b) product managers were DEAF to requests for honest performance information from leadership, and (c) everyone was DUMB (silent) when it came to pointing out the biggest elephant on the table which was that the culture of the company was very authoritarian and the current CEO was by far not qualified for their role – any and all input was dealt with, let us say, in a very emotional and unpredictable manner… Simply put - the planned innovation effort was doomed to failure from the beginning and everyone knew it... but everyone put on a good face and demonstrated a "can do" attitude anyway... holding on to your job is existential for most of us in the current economic crisis.
After the discussion I reflected on how common this situation is in many organizations... leadership out of its depth, middle management defensive, experts tired of being ignored.... let the elephants rule seems to be the adage of the day... and this may well contribute to the 50/50 success rate we see overall in the efforts to diffuse innovations from ideation to market saturation. In defense of the actors I would argue that everyone as individuals is competent, professional, honest, etc. It is just when they come together in their roles at this company that they seem to turn off all of that….
Innovations perhaps do need a lot of luck to be successful…  in this specific case we moved our discussion to the weather… and decided to focus on a nice bottle of red wine from a local vinery – neither of us really interested in frustrating ourselves…
I suspect many of you will be quick to point out more encouraging examples BUT do remember that survival is the EXCEPTION and that we seldom hear from / about those that did not – the winners write the history… classic read here on selection bias applied to World War II UK bomber damage https://reactorfire.wordpress.com/tag/bomber/.
P.S. If you are interested in learning more please visit us at www.innovation-web.eu, our LinkedIn Group at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8779542/, our blog at https://www.innovation-web.eu/entov-hvm-blog, our Researchgate project page at https://www.researchgate.net/project/Open-European-Network-for-Enterprise-Innovation-in-High-Value-Manufacturing-ENTOV-HVM, our Sourceforge page at https://sourceforge.net/projects/entov-hvm/  and our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2014779865300180/. You can also follow us via Twitter: @owschwabe (#innovationweb) and the LinkedIn Group page https://www.linkedin.com/company/entov.

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