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How to become an innovative engineer

How to become an innovative engineer

Over the last years I have worked in quite diverse organizations, with very divers profiles and backgrounds of people. What strikes me most is that engineers, or generalised technical people, are often the ones with the most aversion towards innovation, but at the same time they are also the ones with the highest potential to become real innovators and innovation ambassadors in their organisation. So here are some key elements, which will make you as an engineer a better innovator.

See the many faces of innovation
Engineers and technical people often think of innovation in terms of technological innovation. In their mind set one can only talk of a true innovation if something new has been developed and incorporated in the new product or service. But innovation is not only about technology, in fact it has many different faces. Think of innovation in marketing, in human resources, by adding design, by using common sense, business model innovation, etc. etc. etc. Once you learn this as an engineer, you will soon see the benefit of working with people from completely different backgrounds and departments to kick start innovation in your organisation.

Say ‘yes and…’
‘Yes but…’ is the biggest innovation killer. Engineers tend to use this far to often because when thinking of ideas they directly think of the technological realization of that idea: how should it work, can we make it, do we have the technological knowledge, etc. For them it’s hard to imagine that “If you can dream it, you can do it” (Walt Disney). So learn to postpone your judgment and ‘say yes and…’. Because your imagination will take you everywhere.

Train and use your soft skills
We all tend to think that technology drivers (companies that depend heavily on their internal technological capabilities to develop new products and services) are the most noble innovators and have a high performance rate. However large-scale research on the success rate of innovation clearly shows that technology drivers are not the best innovator on the long run. Market readers (companies that rely on monitoring their market, customers, and competitors for their innovation strategy) have already a higher success rate. But need seekers (companies who engage customers directly to generate new ideas and develop new products and services based on end-user understanding) clearly are the best innovators on the long run because they adapt most easily and as such have the most chance to survive.

As such if you want to become a real innovator, try not to focus on mathematical proofs in the first place. In the first place innovation is about listening to customers, observing their buying and consumption behaviour, finding inspiration in everything and sometimes relaying on your intuition and gut feeling. Because the world of tomorrow is about H2H: human to human. So start training and using your soft skills.

And always build a business case
Engineers typically prefer to go directly from idea to development and implementation. However there are some crucial steps to take before you can do that. In fact a rough idea needs to be checked with possible customers on its attractiveness, subsequently it needs to be worked out in a business case and only if you have a good insight on the feasibility (financially, market, etc.) you can think of development, implementation, testing and launch. Practise shows that ignoring these crucial steps often lead to huge waste of time and money in the development of ideas that have no business potential or that show no customer attractiveness. So always develop an idea into a business case before you start with the development, implementation, testing and launch of it.

In short, if you want to become an innovative engineer remember that:
1. Innovation has different faces.
2. Always say ‘yes and…’, because ‘yes but…’ is the biggest innovation killer.
3. The world of tomorrow is about H2H: human to human. So start training and using your soft skills.
4. Always develop an idea into a business case before you start with the development, implementation, testing and launch of it.

 

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