What is your business approach to innovation? When a company is successful, and especially when it’s large, innovation can be a slow process. The need to be agile doesn’t seem as great when there is an established and reliable product portfolio.
But think of the disruptions that have become available just in the last few years. Uber has made traditional taxis seem like a downright hassle. Why stand on the curb hoping that one happens by when I can get on my phone and see exactly how long until I’ll be picked up and exactly how much my ride will cost? The hotel industry can say the same about Airbnb. These days, no industry can consider itself a safely established stalwart.
This brings us back to the question of innovation. Specifically, let’s look at General Electric – a large multinational corporation that runs like a machine. When a company like GE has such a well-established portfolio, how do they make room for new types of thinking?
At the recent MAPI Executive Summit in Chicago, Kevin Nolan of GE Appliances shared the story of FirstBuild, which is what they call a “co-creation community” aimed at developing and launching products faster than through its traditional channels.
FirstBuild is a microfactory located on the University of Louisville campus, not far from GE’s Appliance Park. They also engage with an online community for gathering and developing ideas. The idea was hatched through engagement with Louisville’s hacker community – enthusiasts, designers and engineers who just love building things in their free time. By developing small-batch products, they are able to bring products to market faster without the costs and risks associated with mass manufacturing. In essence, FirstBuild is GE’s way of allowing for more agility and innovation without causing huge disruption to its established appliance business.
While FirstBuild gained its initial funding through GE, it also has a sustainability goal to develop 12 new products a year with at least one going to production through GE Appliances. They also must break even financially. They have found some success with Opal, a countertop nugget ice maker, and Paragon, an induction cooktop.
Sure, most companies do not have the resources of a big corporation like GE. But all companies can find ways to improve their innovation. Nolan suggests embracing new technologies, creating a separate environment for risk, and building in a low cost for failure.
FirstBuild welcomes visitors to its Louisville facility. It might be just the kind of place to find some great ideas to help boost your own innovation.
Contact me at pbrown@AMTonline.org.