10:00 AM, 26 June 2017

The spirit of disruptive innovation

How often have you heard someone in your work circles say, “Nowadays we don’t see work more than two to three weeks ahead” or “Since major contracts have started finishing, we don’t know what to do with our current staff”?  If a lot - you’re not alone.

Looking out for the next contract opportunity is the norm for many of our member companies - but could we improve this outlook with better marketing or networking? Absolutely! In fact most jobs are generated by word of mouth and those random phone calls which you weren’t expecting - but when those dry up, you’re still likely to be dictated by the market than call the shots yourself any way.

What we need to start asking ourselves is whether we can jump ahead of the queue, and drawing inspiration from those who’ve paved the way is a good start - take the classic car Ford Mustang for example!

A faster horse - Ford's disruptive journey

Henry Ford is famously quoted for saying ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse’ - a statement reflective of an era where everybody had horses but very few cars, and his underlining belief that his company knew best being the ‘car people’. Since then, this phrase has been adopted in arguments and debates around the world when it comes to aspirations for a disruptive shift in thinking.

Surprisingly this isn’t commonly what he was best known for. Ford’s real contribution is attributed to developing the art of the assembly line. In 50 years more than 9 million Mustangs have been sold around the world, transforming him into one of the richest and best-known business men crediting him with the concept of "Fordism" - mass production of inexpensive goods coupled with high wages for workers.

"Designing a good looking car is as easy as pie. Designing a car that the company can afford, manufacturing guys can assemble and engineers can engineer, that’s damn difficult." Ford Engineer

His global vision with consumerism as the key to peace, and his intense commitment to systematically lowering costs resulted in many technical and business innovations – but didn’t come without its fair share of challenges. The Edsel Ford model was an expensive and embarrassing example of the wrong car at the wrong time with the wrong design. 

"This is why people get nervous about innovating. People put their careers on the line to get this going. It was a high –risk game. The Edsel designers were known as the E-guys. Henry Ford II did not want to have anything to do with them.’' Ford Staff Member

Ford analysis and its implications

Ford responded to an unknown market need disruptively paving the way for the modern automobile industry by acknowledging that customers don’t always know what they want.  His downfall being he failed to listen to his customers or test his vision against reality - halting the process of innovation for his company. 

So, while not a perfect run, what we can take away from Ford’s story is that having the confidence to buck the norm can be a game changer.

What does this mean for you?

At HERA, we believe our members don’t have to be a Henry Ford to innovate, nor aspire to his scale of disruption – but we do think diversifying your market and productising your service offerings are easily addressed with your capabilities. Developing your innovation muscle to consistently temper innovative strides against market behaviour is all it takes.

Next time there is a question around staff retention or contracts drying up, let’s think how can we jump this queue by applying disruptive thinking and exercise our disruptive spirit and innovation muscle.

Such efforts ultimately transform reputations and brands over time to reflect what we do

So much so that we’re putting our efforts where our mouth is - exploring low temperature clean energy research that demands a different approach for our energy sector. So far no-one in New Zealand is manufacturing low temperature energy conversion plants despite our capability to make them more affordable for energy end-users and an increasing demand for alternative and reliable energy sources globally.  If there was ever a chance to disrupt the market it is now, which is why we’re submitting a research partnerships proposal to the government this August to seek funding for transformative industry initiatives with clean energy technologies a major research programme within it.

We know heavy engineering is classed a traditional industry – but we also know that many of our members are innovating and changing their paradigm of operation and market impact to remain competitive. It goes to show - no matter how big or small the initiative or effort, having a disruptive mind set and constantly asking what is the ‘next thing’ is our assurance for progress.

If you’re ready to free yourselves from customer constraints and beliefs in business philosophies so you can be guided by objective market trend analyses we’d love to hear from you – or better still, have you join our research partnerships programme! Contact our Industry Development Manager Boaz Habib to find out more by email boaz.habib@hera.org.nz or on +64 9 262 4753.

Class yourself an innovator, or want to recognise someone who is?

Our industry awards categories are now open for nomination and it includes an innovator of the year award – why not make a recommendation for someone today?  Simply click here!