The Brandenburg Tor in Berlin Photograph – Wayne Mallinson
Systematic Innovation Big in Germany but not yet in South Africa
I saw the conference notification early in 2015, and I knew it was a ‘must attend’ for me. Attending a systematic innovation conference in Berlin later in the year, would be just what the doctor ordered! I had already been reading up on, and working towards learning powerful International systematic innovation techniques. These techniques are not widely known in South Africa. Where systematic innovation is known, it is kept pretty close to the chest by most of the companies in South Africa that do use it. The number of home-grown South African companies that openly use the systematic innovation techniques today can be counted on less than ten fingers! The vibe is different in Berlin and by extension Germany – it seems to me like tens, if not hundreds of local German companies were catching up, and fast. Germany is seen as being in the top ten innovative countries in the world when results of the 2016 General Electric Global Innovation Barometer are viewed.
Why so Slow?
There might be good reasons for the stealth of this systematic innovation. Firstly, the original work on systematic innovation was published in the Russian language. Secondly, it was during the ‘Cold War’, when Russia and the West were not on the best speaking terms. Thirdly, companies using these powerful techniques might not wish to advertise what constitutes a ‘secret sauce’. Students of the techniques escaped from the ‘Iron Curtain’ in the late eighties after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Only then did the Western world begin to ‘catch on’. The founding man, who researched and discovered the systematic innovation techniques, had long before, been sent to the Gulag, after suggesting to Stalin after World War Two, that Russia could be run better…. Even today, in some quarters, there persists, a resistance to the change that new ideas often bring.
Why so Fast?
The rest is history. Systematic innovation is rapidly gaining traction globally with huge companies in the automobile, aeronautical, aerospace, energy, fashion, information technology, manufacturing, retail and other industries jumping in with both feet, using and advancing the techniques. This is also no passing fad, most, if not all of the companies who started using these techniques some decades ago, now speak of getting deeper into the techniques, and using them more radically.
The conference in Berlin had over 200 delegates from at least 27 countries, including one delegate from South Africa. Me. It was held in a beautiful hotel with a setting on the Spree River. Keynote addresses and three conference tracks, networking sessions, workshops, teas, lunches, cocktails, exhibits and the gala dinner gave me a very busy, but fruitful time over the four days. Seven of many more lessons from the conference are recorded below.
Systematic Innovation Crosses Knowledge Domains
- Systematic innovation has been expanding from its original problem solving origins and product innovations, to include new areas of services, processes, management, information technology, and business processes and strategies. It also leaps over industry boundaries with ease.
Systematic Innovation has an Extensive Knowledge Base
- Systematic innovation has an expanding body of knowledge, although its original base of findings remain relevant.
Systematic Innovation Improves Task Selection, Content, Direction and Outcomes
- Information Technology speeds routine as well as sophisticated sensing and control tasks in the knowledge economy, whereas systematic innovation improves the task selection, content, direction and outcomes for knowledge application.
Systematic Innovation Drives Serious Growth
- As an example, a company in India is using an aggressive approach to systematic innovation to drive $100 million dollars in business benefits through 21 projects, some in entirely new areas. In follow up phases after the first successes, 150 innovation projects are now being conducted across the whole organisation.
Innovation Needs to be Unleashed
- Not just executives, but also employees who work at the ‘coal face’ – are being roped into innovating at work. Not just governments, but also citizens must know the power of innovating.
Big Data and Systematic Innovation
- Big data from sales figures and social media can be useful, but there are some other big, big data sources, that are highly reliable, relevant and informative.
Systematic Innovation – Difficult to Learn, However…
- This view did seem to be present at the conference, and of course when you learn fundamental material beyond the known brain storming, lateral thinking, or six hats, it is challenging. However I heard or read somewhere, that in Russia they teach systematic innovation in their High Schools!
Things to do in Berlin
Apart from worrying about the Rand to Euro exchange rate, there is actually a lot to do in the city. This is without following the peak hour, 11h30 pm traffic on the trams and metro on the way to parties Every Night (7 days a week). Parties, which seem to end between two and four in the morning, judging by the singing and some exclamatory language heard coming from the streets at these hours. The Berlin museums are numerous, varied and impressive. The Pergamum museum is particularly memorable, with city walls and gates, and a three-story high Roman market facade, reconstructed indoors. A tour through a prosthetics company museum display also provided a treat when we saw and heard about chip-controlled, carbon fiber legs and arms. Just think and your new hand moves to pick up a cup of tea, just stumble and your new leg reacts to save you before you can think. I found Berliners to be very friendly and helpful apart from between two and four in the mornings! Checkpoint Charlie was unusually interesting. The day I was in the area, the Police and Bomb Disposal units were removing a 250 pound World War Two bomb from the same city block! What a (non-) blast!
The Next Conference(s)
Later this year there are systematic innovation conferences in Beijing and in Poland. It will be expensive, but with the revenues that systematic innovation will give to your and to my company, it’s a trip worth taking. Who of you wish to join me in one or both of these the experience(s)?
Systematic Innovation Training
Consider attending our training in South Africa, to learn the systematic innovation techniques yourself. See www.novationnow.co.za for course details. When enough South African organisations take notice, we can bring a conference here!
Photographs Wayne Mallinson