Every design engineer knows that new products are the lifeblood of every
successful manufacturer. But where do great new product ideas come from? Florida
management expert James Higgins points out several paths to bell-ringer products
in his book, Innovate or Evaporate (New Management Publishing Co.)--
Find out what's happening in the rest of the company. At Rubbermaid, for example, engineers adapted a blow-molding technique used to produce picnic coolers to production of a fast-selling line of lawn furniture.
Listen to your distributors. Think about how you can repackage or modify products to make them more appealing to distributors and others who deal with the customer.
Develop brainstorming techniques. Hold regular, no-holds barred sessions that encourage the spontaneous exchange of ideas. An individual can even hold a private "mind mapping" session that starts by writing down the name or description of a central object or problem. Then he or she records all the random facets or issues that branch out from that central concept.
Provide formal training in creativity. A survey by Training Magazine finds that 40% of the nation's 2,500 largest companies now offer such training--double the number ten years ago.
Shake up the organization. If success means developing a product fast to servean important customer, form a skunk-works team with the authority to buck yourinternal bureaucracy and get the product out the door.
Leave room for mistakes. People will never feelcomfortable about exploring new paths if organizations punish them for taking risks that don't yield immediate payoffs.
Reward creativity. Innovative firms recognize that bright employees need more than just the satisfaction of doing a good job. So they have instituted systems of awards, bonuses, and formal "dual track" ladders that allow engineers to receive greater compensation for technical contributions without transferring to management ranks.
Higgins places a special value on "speed" as a trigger for innovation. "Give a designer a year instead of three to develop a product," he says, "and you'll be surprised at the creative things that can happen."
This issue of Design News showcases products that major OEM vendors believe are their most innovative offerings of 1995. Take some time to review these products, not just for their value to your next design, but for the creative touches that they employ. Finally, please help us pick the best of these products by marking the ballot you'll find on page 85.