Innovation in the Hopper

Edward Hopper is one of my favorite artists, so I was excited to see all his Maine works on exhibit at the Bowdoin Museum of Art.  A lot of his time in Maine was on Monhegan Island, a noted artists’ colony for over 150 years, close to us in Pemaquid. Hopper’s experimentation and evolution of style and technique remind me a lot of how we innovate.  I’ll explain in a minute.Monhegan Rocks and Seals (1916-19)

Hopper’s paintings became more realistic and less impressionistic over time.  His early paintings (1916-19’s) were very impressionist with deep texture and detail in the brushstrokes, such as Monhegan Rocks and Seals (1916-19).

And yet, Hopper goes back and forth between realism as in Captain Upton’s House Captain Upton's House (1927)(1927) and a bit of impressionism in my favorite of all his works, Pemaquid Light (1929), as he experiments and integrates the various styles and techniques (you can see the influence of Manet and Degas).  After this several year experimentation with impressionism, Hopper returns to his comfort zone: darker colors and more realistic representation – as in his very famous painting of a bar in Greenwich Village, Nighthawks (1942).    I get lost inPemaquid Light (1929) these paintings – I hear the men at the Pemaquid Light discussing their latest catch, where the stripers are running; I eavesdrop on the couple’s conversation at the bar.

As we innovate over time, our style and technique also evolve and blend.  The ways we interact, write, design and communicate shift as we have more experiences and relationships.   The shift is rarely linear – a few steps forward, a few backward, a few sideways, a few perpendicular.   Why? Because we are experimenting, seeing what works and what doesn’t work, blending aspects of both into new forms and Nighthawks (1942)techniques.  Think back to how you have approached business and life as you’ve matured.  Our perceptions of the world, of others, of global events have all changed and hence, impacted our view of needs, problems and solutions.

So, how has your perspective changed over time? What have you learned through the varied experiences and relationships of your life that you can apply to when, how, where, why you innovate? How can you turn those learnings into solutions that impact lives as much as paintings impact souls?

Realizing Innovation's Full Value

Many of us agree innovation = invention + commercialization.  Commercialization is usually defined aslaunching the ‘invention’ so you and your customers realize value.  But how many of us include how well we’ve extracted the innovation’s value in the market as part of our innovation process?  Probably, not many; it’s just not that easy.  Whirlpool, a long-time innovator, discovered that many of its innovations were not succeeding as planned in the marketplace.  Moises Noreña, Whirlpool’s Director of Global Innovation, was tasked with finding out why and fixing it.  He recently detailed how they went about it.

Moises created a team to focus on the go-to-market aspect of innovation.  They discovered innovations were handed off to traditional market category teams and included in existing product lines.  So, when the innovation didn’t seem to sell well, the usual excuses were given: the product was too expensive, it didn’t work as promised, and consumers need to be converted.  So, what was going on?  Apparently, the innovation & marketplace performance processes were separate and mutually exclusive so products were killed because non-traditional go-to-market options were not explored.  In addition, business leaders frequently confused experimentation with market research leading to unrealistic expectations.  Bottom line? The issues were cultural and process – self-reinforcing both positively and negatively.

A very thoughtful and comprehensive approach was taken to address how to really extract an innovation’s value in the marketplace.  I encourage you to read the details here. Whirlpool’s values were the foundation for all approaches: teamwork, respect, diversity and collaboration.  The approach included selecting the right pilot to test, in this case, a pilot right in Whirlpool’s core – laundry; challenging the status quo; integrating innovation and marketplace performance processes; and having the business ‘own’ and take the lead for the pilot.

The pilot was a success, resulting in the creation of a new process.  Many new insights and ideas were created that translated into actionable opportunities for development, sales and operations with significant revenue potential.  Perhaps more significant were the intangible benefits.  The team’s common pilot experience resulted in a common consumer language, aiding understanding of and empathy with consumers’ issues.  Result? The team started dreaming about other business opportunities with a sense of camaraderie and hope not seen in the standard S&O process.

How can you apply Whirlpool’s learnings to your company? What can you adapt and apply?  Provide your experiences, comments, suggestions in the comment, at Moises’s MiX story or email me.  Let’s leverage each other’s learnings!

Packaging Up Innovation & Radical Management

In May, I was honored to be part of Steve Denning's workshop on his Radical Management principles for redefining 21stCentury management.  Recognition that we need to find a new way to ‘manage' work is gaining ground. We tend to think of 21st Century ‘new management' companies as those in ‘cool' industries: Internet, tech, alternative energy, social media, etc. These companies shun command-and-control!  However, there are some "old" "boring" companies that are surprising 21stCentury.

So, think packaging. You know, those brown boxes that your amazon books come in? Those displays at the end of store aisles that get you to buy more snacks? It's a commodity business, ruled by big huge vertically integrated behemoths with entrenched hierarchies held sacred.  Kind of boring huh?  You bet...not!

In the middle of Wisconsin (not Silicon Valley) is a 163 yr. old, private family business that reinvented itself, pulled a few classic "Blue Oceans" and looks more like a 21st Century newbie than a 19th Century oldie: Menasha Packaging Corporation (MPC).   MPC views their transformation as a journey, not a destination.  Their success is due to their most important asset - people.  And it's not just words, its action based on their values.  MPC has organized itself not as a traditional hierarchy, but as a network to enable and foster their culture.

A small headquarters organization is focused on removing obstacles and leveraging synergies while maintaining a strong entrepreneurial culture in each business.  Instead of centralizing the usual functions and capabilities, MPC relies on standardization, when applicable, to drive efficiency without bureaucracy.  Additionally, if one business has expertise another business needs or could use, it's shared in a center of excellence construct across heterogeneous businesses within MPC instead of being duplicated.  This allows each business to use its resources more innovativelyeffectively and efficiently...a rather unique approach for an ‘old' company.

In one business, an employee created an engaging way to identify and monitor safety issues.  To her, this was just a normal thing to do - see a problem, create a solution.  Soon it spread through the plant and shifts, becoming named "Safety Snags".  Eventually, this became an internally branded initiative throughout MPC.

MPCs culture of customer co-creation is based on listening to customers, quickly creating prototypes set in realistic environments, getting feedback and iterating the experimentation/prototyping until its right. This is also done across MPC businesses to find the right solution.

My initial perception when I started working with MPC, of an old manufacturing company, was quickly changed, and continues to be.  It is not just the new, young, hip companies that are reinventing management and seeing the results.  So what does this say? That it is really possible to create and sustain innovation in established companies.  Perhaps, it starts by innovating management itself.