Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, innovation clearly matters.
But at a SHRM session entitled “Innovation in Turbulent Times” held earlier today, Dr. Iris Firstenberg said innovation is often best manifested when times are tough.
Companies would be well served to let go of their traditional ways and look for fresh perspectives, said Firstenberg, an adjunct professor in the Department of Pyschology at the University of California in Los Angeles.
“Once we have a story, we tend to hold onto it,” observed Firstenberg. Instead, she said, companies need to “tap into the wisdom that’s out there.”
Firstenberg pointed out that many companies are slow to react to innovation. She cited the slow response of competitors when Johnson & Johnson launched the market’s first non-aspirin product, Tylenol. “When Tylenol came on the market, what did the aspirin makers do? Nothing. So Tylenol had the market to itself for eight years.”
Another example she cited was Blockbuster, noting that it failed to recognize how the Internet was changing its business.
To innovate, Firstenberg said, companies need to pursue the perspectives and “wisdom” of others.
Firstenberg pointed to Cemex, a Mexican-headquartered cement producer, as an excellent example of a company that was able to do just that. In the ’90s, she said, the firm was struggling, partly because of its inability to deliver its products on time.
In response, she said, Cemex visited with companies that excelled in on-time delivery, such as FedEx (24-hour delivery), Dominos (delivery in 30 minutes or less) and 911 in Houston (where response time averaged just four minutes).
Through those conversations, Firstenberg said, Cemex was able to identify what it needed to do to address its challenges. Today, she added, the company is an industry leader with an on-time delivery rate of 98 percent.
That’s not just an improvement, she told attendees, “that’s a revolution.”