While there’s a select group of companies that invent new products and introduce bold new ideas on a regular basis—these organizations are referred to as “first movers” or “fast innovators”—the reality is that not every company starts out as an Amazon or an Uber.
A second faction, “fast followers,” can leverage innovation in a different way. Fast followers can pick and choose innovations introduced into the marketplace and assemble them in ways that make sense for their business. These organizations attempt to innovate incrementally as they quickly follow the innovators’ leads into expanded markets.
For both groups, first innovators and fast followers, the underlying framework for leveraging innovation is important. A company must possess the technology, processes and people skills to seed innovation. It’s not so much about any specific product or service—which will become obsolete in a matter of months or years—it’s about the ability to constantly stay ahead of the competition.
Innovation management is everything
Identifying where you reside on the innovation spectrum is the first step toward optimizing your approach—and evolving. Innovators continuously look to advance while attempting to spot new and unfulfilled needs in the market. Fast followers focus on their core business until they see a compelling business opportunity emerging.
Staying on the leading edge of innovation as a fast follower is difficult. This approach requires ongoing market capital and market presence to develop and sell products that are as good, if not better, than the business that invented it or created the market for it. No less challenging is the fact that it’s tough to compete on both price and quality.
A more desirable and sustainable approach focuses on becoming a fast innovator. How does an organization adopt this framework?
First, there’s a need for technology that supports advanced research and development along with managing the product lifecycle management. This includes the ability to simulate a product or process before investing heavily in it. For example, digital twins which create high fidelity models for actual physical objects, allow designers, engineers and others to explore and perfect manufacturing options rapidly and find the most effective price point. Digital twins are now used by manufacturers to produce everything from automobiles and space vehicles to clothing and furniture.
Secondly, there’s a need to develop the right skills and thinking within an organization. Culture is perhaps the biggest impediment. For most organizations looking to evolve, it’s all about maintaining a focus on people, process and technology. Fast innovators typically establish a diverse workforce with many competing ideas. They are risk takers and typically look “outside the box.” Fast followers, on the other hand, are not encouraged to take risks and often have a more homogeneous workforce.
Engineering long-term success
Fast followers often have a differentiated ability and process disciplines used to analyze an opportunity, rapidly decomposing the enablers and reassembling a product innovation.
When an enterprise builds a solid foundation for innovation management, it’s possible to leapfrog the competition and beat industry innovators at their own game. At some point, it’s also possible to emerge as an industry innovator and achieve radical innovation, if not disruption. Although there’s no single template for success in the digital arena, adopting the right thinking and digital transformation strategy can unleash business transformation. Suddenly, a manufacturer has the toolset and framework to slide the dial from fast follower to fast innovator. These skills, if properly coupled with digital simulation and the digital twin concept could lead to radical new innovation.
About the author Daniel Koniecznyis the director of the Asia Pacific presales organization for Siemens PLM Software. He has been working in Asia for more than 15 years, helping customers understand and benefit from an enterprise digitalization strategy.