Imagination. Innovation. Servitization… and the Fosbury Flop

The Fosbury Flop changed the face of the high jump. Until 1964, high jumpers used the straddle method – going over in a forward motion with legs split. However, when Dick Fosbury could not beat the competition using the straddle method, he simply turned himself around and leapt – backwards. It had not been done before. Initially, his coaches warned against it. His competitors ridiculed his imaginative approach. In the 1966 Olympics, Dick Fosbury won gold and set a world record. Today the “Flop” is the #1 jump method for gold medalists.

Having the imagination to challenge the norm is often at the heart of innovation and success. Yet, many companies struggle to provide the environment and encouragement that fosters innovation – innovation that often times results in new business opportunities and new ways to deliver higher customer value.

Recently NPR interviewed Greg Christie, one of the original software and device designers for Apple’s iPhone, who shared insight on the culture at Apple at that time of heightened innovation.

As Christine describes it, Apple designed the iPhone with little more than a mission and an idea – no similar device or software model existed to reference. There was no market validation that it would be successful. Of course, now we think of it as one of the most transformational successes of our time, but they had no idea that innovation would shift an entire multi-billion communications industry as well as the everyday consumer’s user experience.

This transformation required extreme imagination. Steve Jobs knew to not only encourage out of the box thinking, but required it. Some would say he forced it. As Christie states, “the design team started with a blank screen. Design choices that seem obvious to us now, were only fragments of ideas at the time. No one had designed a phone without buttons before, and even with an idea like a touch screen there was no design language to grab onto.” In the end, Christie and his team designed a device which hundreds of millions of people now carry in their pockets. Gestures they created are now second nature for millions of us.

What we know now as the most common way to interact with our phones was non-existent less than 10 years ago. The first iPhone went on sale in 2007, and has since shifted the entire marketplace.

Not only did Apple revolutionize the design, the iPhone forced innovative new relationships within the value chain – with telecommunications partners such as AT&T in the beginning and forced the need to develop an entirely new customer services model.

Having spent the past five years advocating servitization with global manufacturers, I’ve learned that often it’s that ability to innovate – to be truly imaginative around new business models that propels the shift in the market. Without the capacity to imagine – companies remain stuck in their traditional business models – they may try to tug and pull themselves a bit, but without fundamental innovation they fail to grow their business and keep pace with the competition.

Unfortunately, where most companies find themselves today is under pressure to sustain their current business levels which negatively impacts the culture transformation and resources required to nurture innovation. A recent blog post by Rita J. King, See and Manage Your Organization’s Culture, emphasizes the lack of cultural support for innovation. In the post she remarks that individuals and organizations are getting crushed by the need to constantly change and that enterprises need to work together to create the mindset necessary to shape strategies for the future. She shares that the most critical business skills in the Imagination Age (this current period between the Industrial Era and the Intelligence Era) are the ability to solve problems and identify business opportunities. In order to do either of these things well, collaborative groups need to have the kind of culture that fosters forward motion and deep understanding.

During a recent visit to New Orleans, I experienced first-hand forward thinking innovation in manufacturing by Schindler. As part of a $275M revitalization following Hurricane Katrina, the Hyatt Regency New Orleans partnered with Schindler to help solve the guest “mobility” challenges anticipated in their high-traffic, multifaceted network of guest room and meeting spaces – a vast venue of thousands of guest rooms and multi-storied 200,000 square feet of functional areas. In this role, Schindler wasn’t simply competing for an elevator sale but rather engaged as a subject-matter expert in building optimization.

Schindler knows that efficient guest mobility is a critical component of guest satisfaction and working with the Hyatt has implemented their exclusive PORT (Personal Occupant Requirement Terminal) technology to optimize every occupant’s journey. Schindler’s PORT technology is an innovative destination-dispatch system that dynamically customizes hotel guest travel with the swipe of a room key – while improving guest safety, building efficiency and energy savings. In an industry of fierce competition, it’s this type of imaginative solutions that will continue to provide Schindler with competitive advantage.

This innovative new technology differentiates Schindler from the competition and creates a tight-knit partner relationship with Schindler providing “mission critical” services that directly impacts customer satisfaction for the hotel’s guests. But as you can imagine, these new services require business transformation to support the new services model – from the collaboration with the hotel and developer on the transit system, to the coordination with the service supply chain – including the key card vendor who delivers the room entry systems – and finally to the organizational shifts that occur between Schindler’s engineering, operations and services organizations. All of these activities require Schindler to operate outside of their traditional roles and processes.

Similar to Apple, Schindler was facing a blank screen related to new business thinking and you can imagine the first time Schindler referred to their products as mobility solutions or “personal occupant requirement terminals”. I am sure it sounded almost like a line from a Star Trek movie. But the company culture fostered the imagination behind the ideas and the market is now in the midst of a major transformation.

So how do Schindler and other manufacturers make innovation happen?
How do they nurture and reward innovation in the Imagination Age?
Like Apple, they need a mission, a clean slate and unfettered imagination.
Or maybe like Dick Fosbury, they need to turn around and jump backwards.

To learn more about Servitization and hear from industry leaders such as DELL, EMC, Honeywell, Ingersoll Rand, Sikorsky and distinguished speakers from The Harvard Business School and University of Cambridge, Service Alliance – please join me at PTC Live Service Exchange in June 2014.


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