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Disruptive innovation

Finding the silver lining when the apple cart tips

Innovation is the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices or methods. Generating more profit through time saving lean ideas epitomizes the benefits of good innovation. That’s the reason we innovate; to save time, create better product and bring home the bacon. Successful business minded people are masters of innovation.

It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, innovative people find better ways to do things. And, it doesn’t have to be a new, highly technological process to generate good results. Sometimes, it’s just the things right in front of us (that we don’t ever think about), that have the greatest potential for improvement.

To be successful in business, you must innovate. In fact, not just brainstorming for new ideas and methods, but having a determined mindset to grow. As the saying goes, “if you’re not looking for it, you’ll never find it.” Change is a result of understanding that there are better ways of doing things. Sometimes we get so caught up in our routines we become comfortably numb (or complacent). Comfort is fine, until it is accepted as the only way to do something (without considering other options). That is called stagnation. Once you become stagnate, the environment around you is marked by lack of flow, movement and development. When a river or pond is stagnate, its water becomes fouled with a mirky stink that ceases to encourage a healthy ecosystem.

State of mind

The question you must ask is, are you innovating for profit or pleasure? The results and practice depend entirely on the level of innovation you’re trying to achieve.

I mentioned having a mindset that is always looking for positive change. Just because you may have the right state of mind, does not mean you won’t get stuck in the mud along the way. Innovation isn’t some magical procedure that occurs just because you want it, but rather a process that must be worked at to produce results. Much like the need to exercise your muscles to become strong, it takes diligence, physical exertion, and downright pain to produce fruit bearing innovation. The process of nurturing the hatch takes time. Consider yourself an anomaly if it comes easy. For instance, you may be able to produce a crop by simply throwing seeds out the window. But if you ask a farmer about growing an abundant crop, they’ll tell you a different story on how much work is involved; preparing the soil, careful seed placement, watering, weeding, protection against animals and weather, and the final harvest.

Being disruptive

I love going against the grain. As a woodworker I’m well aware of the need to machine and sand with the grain to achieve good results. That’s the standard practice for nurturing wood to its greatest potential. But does the same principle apply to bring about change for humanity or in running a business? Is convention the only way to see the best results?

Tried and true methods (ideas that make sense for bean counters), are the conservative bet when playing the odds. But is this how the best innovation is achieved? What about innovators such as Steve Jobs and Frank Lloyd Wright, who went against the common convention of their industry to follow their own vision, not someone else’s. And the fruit they bore (innovation), was a direct result of their boldness to go against the grain. The question you must ask yourself is when do I follow the numbers and when do I encourage the path that simply feels right? Learning to recognize this “disruption” could be the difference between having successful freedom or being locked in a mundane prison.

I also love order. Taking pride in setting rules and having procedures is the best way I have found to manage clients and subcontractors. A while back, we were running a large exterior project with a cutting-edge weatherization product, an Italian cement panel, and a contemporary edgy design that demanded a great deal of attention and precision to complete. Although the technology was not fresh on the market, it was new enough that neither me nor the primary subcontractor on the project had experience with it. Working from a very detailed set of architectural plans, I was certain that if we followed the carefully laid out design and manufacturer’s instructions, we would be able to provide a correctly completed project.

As the project got underway, my primary focus was to ensure all the team members on site were working as a collective, following these very explicit details. By the third day I had combed over the plans so thoroughly I started to see some discrepancies in both the design and construction techniques laid out. After questioning the architect, his only response was to follow the design and quit overthinking the construction.

Not satisfied with his answer, I contacted the manufacturer whose product had been specified. Fortunately for me, their corporate headquarters was only an hour away from the site, so I set up an appointment with their lead engineer. I showed him the plans and expressed my concerns about the inconsistencies I discovered. The words had barely exited my mouth when he exclaimed, “These details are all wrong and do not reflect our basic installation instructions.” Relieved to know I wasn’t the only one who saw the problem, and that the one who agreed with me happened to be the expert who designed their system, I knew we could now develop a realistic plan. As the engineer delved deeper into the architect’s details, he discovered several other problems, not directly related to his product, but certainly things needing attention to ensure a properly weatherized building.

Innovation from disruption

Every architectural project I had worked on up to this point was a true collaboration between designer and builder. Much like a symphony of musicians, we bounce ideas off each other while using our individual gifts to complete the ultimate goal of building a project to fit a client’s needs. This project, however, disrupted the normal apple cart of collaboration because the architect felt he was above the needs and observations of the contractor. It was this disruption, however, that caused a great deal of innovated processes to be born in our company’s procedures. First, is to never rely on one source for all your information. You need to have a “watch dog” mentality to ensure all the checks and balances are completed correctly. Next, is the importance of recognizing that everyone has specific gifts they bring to the table, and all voices should be heard.

Because the architect himself did not fully understand the manufacturer’s process, he willingly passed his ignorance on to us, not expecting to be questioned about his expertise. Although there may be a hierarchy in every project, being disruptive to the normal acceptance of this structure when something doesn’t sit right is imperative if you want to find success. The innovative discovery we made was that everyone could benefit by having a comprehensive understanding of both the product and process, rather than keeping the understanding only at the top of the hierarchy.

The client thanked me in the end because they were the biggest beneficiary of the resulting disruptive innovation.

Had we not been blindsided by an aggressive architect, not only would we have not understood the new technology techniques that transfer directly to other processes, but we would not have seen how sharing that knowledge with every team member made us all grow both as a team (working in harmony with each other) and individually (by supplying each person on site with the correct technical expertise that will help them throughout their career).

At the end of the day, what do you want to gain from your work life experience? Do you want to simply punch the clock and be content with what the day brings your way, or do you want to learn and improve by innovation? Having your daily routine disrupted is sometimes the very catalyst needed to bring about change. Don’t get discouraged when things don’t go right, rather consider it an opportunity for disruptive innovation to bring about change for the better. 

This article was originally published in the March 2022 issue.

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