Manufacturing Innovation Requires Sweat, But Here’s How To Minimize The Tears

These days, say the word “innovation” and most folks will think of the technology sector, with visions of AI, IoT, and AR

AR
. If it abbreviates, it innovates.

These incredible technologies make up the backbone of manufacturing’s future, but innovation from within our industry remains a distinctive creature. There is no getting around it: creating physical products from nothing is one of the toughest kinds of innovation. There is tremendous opportunity for companies who do it right, but the failure rate is high.

For years, my non-profit organization in Northeast Ohio has been deploying a simple framework to help manufacturing companies successfully innovate. We’ve helped thousands of companies and realized we could help many more by sharing the secret. So, our talented vice president of strategy & innovation, Brandon Cornuke, wrote a book about it.

The Value Proposition Matrix releases this week so I thought it was an ideal time to chat with Brandon about how manufacturers can take the risk out of innovation.

Let’s talk first about your audience. Who can this book help?

The Value Proposition Matrix is for any early-stage innovator. That includes start-ups, entrepreneurs, product development folks, corporate innovation teams, students of innovation, and more. It’s really for anyone who is creating early-stage value propositions and trying to see whether the market actually wants what they’re setting out to invent.

Why did you decide to write this book?

I am a past and potential future entrepreneur. I count myself among those who have tried and, at times, failed to build things and bring them to life. I have been in innovation for more than 15 years, whether that’s working on my own projects or working on behalf of others. I’ve helped manufacturers, entrepreneurs, students, and cultural institutions—people across the board.

I’ve learned that every innovator struggles to clearly describe the value they’re creating at the earliest stages of their journey. And once they can describe that value proposition, innovators often don’t know how to prioritize their next steps. Helping them is why I wrote this book. I know that understanding the value you’re creating and using your time and money wisely is fundamental to successful innovation.

The book’s subtitle is, “An Innovator’s Guide to Four Questions That Separate Success from Failure.” Break that down for me. How do we begin to help these innovators better understand and craft their value prop?

Any value proposition, especially those that are new, is built on four important things. They’re built on a customer, that customer’s problem, a unique solution that you’re offering that customer, and a team to deliver it.

When you put those four things together, you’re making four very important assumptions. The first assumption is that the problem actually matters to the customer you have in mind. The second is that you can actually solve the customer’s problem with your unique solution. The third is that you can deliver that solution. And the fourth is that the customer will actually buy it. Those four assumptions make up the foundation of any value proposition.

We read so much about virtual innovation and software and all kinds of digital innovation. But it’s not as in vogue these days to talk about physical products. It is harder to get investors to pay attention and to say, “Yes, I’m going to take the risk. I’m going to fund the prototypes. I’m going to spend money on helping you make things.” Is it harder to sell physical product innovation to investors these days?

The reality is it’s harder to get investors excited about physical product innovation, relative to software or bio technologies. It doesn’t mean that it’s not a fabulous place to invest time and money. It just means that you need the right team of investors and the right story to tell about how your innovation can come to life and deliver great value.

When it comes to delivering, why is physical product innovation so specific and so hard?

Physical product innovation is a lot like any innovation, whether you’re developing software or creating a service, except it requires the development of things that are often expensive and time consuming. You often have to build different versions of the product in order to understand what works. And that takes time. It takes expertise like engineering. It can be expensive.

So, if you don’t fundamentally understand the assumptions you’re making, if you’re not crystal clear on who your customer is, what problem you’re solving for them, the unique solution you’re offering, and what team you need to deliver it, you’re going to be in trouble in a hurry.

Why does innovation fail? Why is there such a high failure rate, particularly in manufacturing?

Startups or new ventures from within organizations fail all the time. In my experience, those failures follow common patterns. They fail because they’re not creating something that the market wants, often because they don’t fully understand their customers and their customers’ needs. They believe that they understand what the market needs instead of going and asking folks what they need. Asking your spouse or golf buddy doesn’t count as market research! Or they fail because they believe that the solution they’re offering solves their customer’s problem when, in fact, it might not.

Sometimes they believe that they have the assets they need or the team or the resources or capital they need to bring their idea to life when, in fact, they don’t. And they may believe that someone will pay for it when, in fact, they go out and find that’s not true. Any one of those things is fatal to an innovation effort, but I see all four all the time. Avoiding them is the key to building successful products.

So how will this book help people avoid these failures?

First, The Value Proposition Matrix is designed to help innovators simplify and clarify their value proposition. Next, it helps highlight the four key assumptions that, if wrong, will sink any innovation effort. Finally, it gets innovators working on these assumptions, learning quickly, and adjusting before it’s too late.

And the reality is we desperately need innovation to succeed. The future of manufacturing depends on it and we’re falling behind. Our most recent survey found that 75% of manufacturers have deprioritized innovation. Why do you think this moment is a powerful one to help spur more of it?

This is a fantastic moment for companies to think about innovation and imagine new ways to grow. The pandemic has created new opportunities, new challenges, new ways of working that have reorganized so much of how we go to work and create value and buy things. If we unlock and deconstruct the way organizations think about innovation, if we can remove the fear of failure and replace it with thoughtful experimentation and efficient ways to look for new value, I believe we can create a really impressive growth engine that the entire industry – and country – can get behind. And I think it’ll lead to a lot of growth and a lot of value for a lot of folks.

I am so proud of the years of work this book represents, and incredibly enthusiastic about what those learnings will do as a catalyst for manufacturers across the country. How will you measure the book’s success?

I really just hope it helps entrepreneurs and innovators find an easier path to create value for the world. The passion that innovators bring to their effort is what drives me to help. It’s what inspires me every day. These are folks who see the world differently. They see things that could be better, and they have the courage to try and change what they see. So, this book is meant to help them on that incredibly hard and admirable journey. If that happens, it’ll all be worth it.

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