A couple of years ago, Forbes magazine laid out 9 rules for successful business innovation and the first one says that innovation is not a single event but a process. One single discovery or invention is not going to be enough to call it innovation, it is vital to ask the right questions in order to achieve a solution that actively transforms an entire company or industry. That is why innovation challenges are so important.
As Wikipedia put it, an innovation challenge is a method or process of the industrial process, product or business development. It is a form of social engineering, which focuses on the creation and elaboration of the best and most sustainable ideas, coming from the best innovators. However, sometimes the best minds for certain projects do not necessarily work inside one’s company and, because of that, it is advisable to listen to external points of view.
Let’s take a look at these innovation business success stories from two well-known companies that used innovation challenges to come up with groundbreaking products that we still use today.
How Carrier invented Air Conditioning through an Innovation Challenge
If you do some quick research about Carrier, you will quickly learn about a fascinating story. Everything started in 1902 when Walter Timmis, a consulting engineer tried to solve a challenge at Sackett & Wilhelms multicolor printing plant. The problem was that the ink misaligned with the expansion and contraction of the paper stock due to humidity which created a serious quality issue, waste, and productivity loss within the company.
Timmis visited J. Irvine Lyle, Head of Buffalo Forge’s sales in New York. Lyle knew engineers had been able to heat up, cool down and humidify the air and recommended to meet a recent Cornell University graduate engineer, who had already impressed many people at Buffalo Forge.
Carrier started to experiment with cold water flowing through heating coils and airflow to cool the air down to the desired dew point temperature. As a result, the first set of coils was installed at the plant along with fans, ducts, heaters, perforated steam pipes for humidification, and temperature controls.
The compressor was introduced later in 1903 to meet the demands of the first full summer of operation. This system of chilled coils was designed to maintain a constant humidity of 55 percent year-round and have the equivalent cooling effect of melting close to 50 Tones of ice per day. And thus, modern air conditioning was born.
How a different point of view helped 3M develop a new product
When joining MMM, Richard spent some time visiting the local auto shops to test various kinds of sandpaper. During his visits, he realized one of the pains at the time was the two-tone paint job since workers had to mask off parts with newspapers and homemade glue, which generated a lot of rework.
He also realized that 3M’s sandpaper was using a sticky surface to which the minerals would be applied. Then, he started to create his own tape and in around 2 years he found a recipe of glue and glycerin applied to a thin paper that produced a tape that stuck to its surface but still peeled off easily and did not damage the paint.
Since his boss could not see the potential of his creation, he invested in and built a machine for mass production. Once his boss found out what Drew had achieved, he rewarded him for his tenacity by establishing a new managerial mandate at 3M. As a result, “Scotch Masking Tape” was an instant success and immediately changed the way paint jobs of all sorts were completed.
These business innovation stories reveal a valuable lesson: it is very important to leave the door open to new proposals and ideas so that a company can move forward. Company leaders must create a working environment that encourages new perspectives and points of view to break from tradition and obsolete practices.