Miss Management: Please add me to your mailing list
July 28, 2010 | Galynn Nordstrom
A former president of the United States once said, probably with more prescience than anticipated, that “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” The statement has passed into political (and comedic) lore, but I’m thinking that it certainly applies to many business practices in this country as we stumble out of recession. If that’s what we’re doing.
Are we going to innovate our way out of this recession—all the way out of it—with chastened lenders hoarding funds and ducking regulation, and government and big business pontificating, advising, nodding sagely and forming blue-ribbon commissions? It brings to mind, painfully, the years that I worked as an Information Officer for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), which operated with government-appointed top management (sometimes hired from our major utility companies), nearly 700 employees around the state (almost all of them against pollution), an antiquated computer system filled with often-incompatible data, and the involvement of several large labor unions.
Watching the progression of an idea around that agency became a source of amusement, once it stopped being a source of pain. If I’d sent around an e-mail to everyone announcing that I had discovered a cure for cancer, I’d have received 400 replies directing me to the Minnesota Department of Health, and 200 responses saying “I don’t have cancer; please remove me from your mailing list.”
In his book “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” Bill Bryson references the five stages of innovation:
1. People deny that the innovation is required.
2. People deny that the innovation is effective.
3. People deny that the innovation is important.
4. People deny that the innovation will justify the effort required to adopt it.
5. People accept and adopt the innovation, enjoy its benefits, attribute it to people other than the innovator, and deny the existence of stages 1 through 4.
When I left the MPCA, I joined IFAI and was introduced to the specialty fabrics industry. In some respects, I’m still trying to figure out how a 70-person trade association can be more complicated than a 700-person state agency. I have seen that, as in any industry, there is resistance to change, and to accepting the fact that sometimes small changes aren’t enough. But I’ve also seen a lot of small businesses treating innovation as a process, rather than a product, and engineering change after listening to the customer, rather than before.
The Industrial Fabrics Foundation’s (IFF) first-ever Innovation Award program, designed both to recognize the importance of innovation to the specialty fabrics industry and to inspire new business opportunities and partnerships, garnered seven entries this year. IFF director Beth Hungiville (firstname.lastname@example.org) says that next year, the organization may change the requirement that a product submitted must be commercially available, or add a new category for products or processes that have been developed but are still seeking commercial distribution. This year’s winners will be announced at IFAI Expo Americas 2010 in Orlando this October.