Not a CSIA-related Post

Walt’s been doing yeoman service covering the CSIA meeting here at SoundOff! and on Twitter, and I haven’t wanted to steal his thunder, but meanwhile, back here in cloudy, rainy Chicago, another meeting of the minds was going on.

Wednesday, I attended the AberdeenGroup Executive Summit on Product Innovation. As is often the case with such meetings, there was an element of preaching to the choir involved. Folks interested in the importance of doing product innovation right were there. The people who should have been hearing the message probably weren’t, which is too bad.

Stephen Gold, Aberdeen CEO, kicked things off by addressing the irony of talking about investing in new products in the current economic environment, where many of us are just trying to keep our noses above the waterline. But that may be just the time to take such risks. Gold pointed out that such crazy ideas and companies as Fedex and IBM were launched during bad economic times.

He concluded with the warning that smart companies are planning now for the inevitable turnaround. They will be ready with new products in the pipeline. Those companies that hunker down and do nothing now will be left scrambling when the turnaround begins.

Aberdeen’s Chief Research Office, Andrew Boyd, delivered the warning that sometimes “less is less,” adding that in a recent Aberdeen survey, 45% of respondents said their companies have delayed starting new product initiatives. On the other hand, he reminded the audience that “there is no better time to innovate than when your competitors are down.”

Still, folks can hardly be blamed for thinking that “Yeah, right.” is the appropriate response when sales and order numbers keep dropping like rocks.

Which brings me to the other important takeaway from the meeting. Listening to the keynote address from Andrew Brown, the chief technologist for automotive supplier Delphi and one of the afternoon presentations, “Innovation in a Commodity Industry,” by Doug Powell, the senior vice president, Treasury Services, at Wachovia, which now has to add the tagline, “A Wells Fargo Company” to its name, I was reminded of the wonderful quip by Samuel Johnson: “Depend upon it. When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

To say that both Delphi and Wachovia have come upon hard times is to state the obvious. Delphi’s in bankruptcy and Wachovia had its bacon saved only by being bought out by Wells Fargo. If any companies had the right to stop spending money on innovation in the short term it would be these two—wouldn’t it?

Not so fast, said both Brown and Powell. Both of them saw innovation—new products and processes—as the key to their rebuilding. You can’t keep doing the same things that got you into trouble in the first place.

Both companies learned the same innovation lessons:
• Make products customers really want, not what you think they want.
• Leave your preconceptions at the door and take advice where you can find it—even outside the walls of your operation.
• Be realistic. Work within the limitations of your situation. Do what makes sense in your market, but also make sure you understand what your market is telling you.
• Look beyond the next quarter. 

There’s way more, but the Big Book of Blogging says to keep posts short. For more detailed information, check the Aberdeen website. Like all consultancies, Aberdeen charges for a lot of the good stuff, but there is also quite a bit of free content on the site.