Steam power, Electricity, Internet…3D printing?

3D printing or additive manufacturing is a 30 years old disruptive innovation that is finally scaling up. It will revolutionize manufacturing, supply chains, business models and our individual relationships to objects through customization.

To make it simple, the starting point is the Internet download of a 3D sketch created somewhere in the world. Next, as if by magic, you can produce something layer by layer on the other side of the world. (See the collaborative 3D printing site: http://www.shapeways.com/) It started with plastic and now spreads to an increasingly wide range of materials, such as metal, glass, sand and concrete. 3D printing will challenge the need for traditional manufacturing sites, finished goods transportation and part of the human intervention.

Initially very expensive 3D printing devices were used for industrial prototyping. Today, plastic toys or shoes can be manufactured at home or in a shop with a 300 to 2,000$ 3D printer. 3D printed urgent replacement parts in plastic and even metal for automotive or industrial equipment are more and more frequent (See Stratasys, one of the leading 3D printing company: http://www.stratasys.com/). The last 3D fashion is military drones printing. Usually military projects turn one day or the other into public use…did you ever dream of your own 3D printed airplane? Even better, 3D printing of concrete buildings could be a couple of years away.

And finally, 3D printing of human organs based on donors’ cells, is in development with obvious health benefits, though it will clearly generate heated ethical debates.

In any case, 3D printing has the potential to change our world the same way steam power, electricity or Internet did. It will change the way we produce many objects. It will have wide impacts on supply chains, division of labor, production costs, creativity, customization, relations to brands and ultimately who does what. It will shake the corporate and the workers world.

Some will be frightened. The same voices that claimed Internet would kill brick and mortar shops and send all employees home, will resonate again. Of course they will still be underestimating the need for a more educated workforce and new support and development activities.

But others will see the broad extent of this opportunity. New companies will emerge and win big, some large corporations will react too slowly and disappear.

In front of radical innovation, companies usually react in 3 different ways

1)   Adopt the ostrich approach

They underestimate the threat and continue business as usual. They claim that it will take time to ramp up, which is often true. They do not want to lose focus on generating revenues in their core business by diverting resources to enter unknown territories. In reality, they are often stuck in management paralysis between short-term financial goals and the long-term vision and innovation investments necessary to enable survival. When they take their head out of the sand to react, it is often way too late. They did not develop the internal expertise related to the new technology or business model and cannot catch up anymore. One of the most well-known cases of ostrich approach confronted to radical innovation is Kodak against digital photography…What? You don’t recall what used to be the leading brand of photographic material?

2)   Fight for their core business

Many companies react to radical innovation by overestimating the resilience ability of their core business. They rely on incremental innovation and try to increase the performance of existing technologies. For instance, smaller hard drives, bigger storage capacity. Well, could it be that they missed the arrival of the flash memory technology that is also now being replaced by “the Cloud”. Did you ever hear about a smart phone or tablet that uses the hard drive technology of the 90’s? Another typical reaction is fighting on price to protect market share. It ultimately implies that they need to adopt a cost leadership strategy, which will diminish their capability to innovate due to R&D budget cuts. They also loose the “cool factor” that would attract talents with creative minds. Finally, many also choose to sue in order to overwhelm opponents with lawyers’ bills. Think about the music industry fight against Napster. Well, Napster had a rough time, but Compact Disks are dying anyway. Instead of spending legal fees, music labels should have better played the VC role to fund companies like Spotify or Deezer, rather than having to buy them at higher prices later on.

3)   Consider the opportunity

Any radical innovation is both a threat and an opportunity for clear-sighted minds. Companies that are directly affected by a radical innovation threatening to substitute their product should brainstorm on how to be part of it! For instance, if your business is to bond products, whether with glue, nails or screws, it is obvious that you should react and be part of the 3D revolution. Who will need adhesive to glue shoes parts in the future, if Nike and all others convert massively to 3D printing! But if you react now, you could make sure that the 3D printing powder contains adhesives on top of the structural polymers, because it brings added features to the final product. If you are a raw material supplier, you should consider changing your standard packaging unit towards smaller sizes and develop a broader distribution network to serve the needs of decentralized mini-manufacturing sites. And of course, if you are a logistic provider focusing on 24 tons truck deliveries, you might want to explore how DHL is shipping small parcels.

However, adopting the “consider the opportunity mindset” is not so easy: your own people will be resistant to change and too slow to learn and implement.

Forward-thinking companies usually adopt some of the principles hereafter:

1)   Create a study group of “open-minded” champions to assess the threat and opportunity potential

2)   Gain expertise with open innovation or by recruiting experts

3)   Isolate their new development group from core business (incubator approach)

4)   Identify lead-users and partners and define what each party can bring to the other

5)   Use an open innovation channel to market or piggy-back on a specialist company

6)   Acquire a specialist company

7)   Influence the design (e.g. you want your raw material, brand or expertise inside)

Up to you now: will you keep your head in the sand or will you dare considering the opportunities of radical innovations around you ???

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7 “moon-inspired” innovation resolutions for 2013


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Explorers wanted: “hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” Ernest Shackleton, Antartic Explorer, 1914

Reading this quote on a wall at the Cape Canaveral Space Center, I thought about the many ups and downs, the days, months or even years of patience and frustration that are often the daily life of innovators.

The Space Center is actually an inspiring place for innovators of all ages. These guys in the 60’s had to invent everything from scratch to be able to land a man on the moon. And to do it, they only had pens and brains…and crazy explorers ready to die in the sky.

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But they did it ! And we can get some innovation learnings out of it…

1) Pick a mind-blowing goal

Would you be ready to work day and night or even to die to reach an everyman unchallenging goal ?

What stays in History are men doing big things. Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon, Nelson Mandela getting Black and Whites to talk to each other in South-Africa. Nobody will be inspired and follow you if your goals are too tiny. You want to enable men to live on Mars once the earth is too polluted. You want to find a technological solution to global slums unhealthy living conditions. Nothing else.

So, what’s your bold goal ?

2) Be the best story-teller ever

Before to reach the glorious day when masses crowd to use or buy your innovative product or solution, you will have to progress on a road full of labyrinths, twists, cracks, gatekeepers and carcasses. If you intend to keep progressing from base to base up to mount Everest peak, if you want your team and followers to keep walking along, you need communicative faith, some wins and a loud inspiring voice – or the one of your sponsor.

Your followers have to keep dreaming – or be afraid of what could happen if you did not make it…The US had a positive vision, be the first on the moon and a threat to fight, the rise of the red ideology.

Up to you now ! To keep them walking, get your inspiring story right and tell it well !

3) Ask “God” to be your innovation sponsor

The road to success can be very long and failures along the path can be outstanding – and public… Many early-stage space rockets exploded. Millions of dollars turned into smoke in seconds. Men even died to reach the moon. But they tried again and again and they did it.

Few men in an organization can withstand blow after blow without collapsing or being shown the door. The higher your sponsor is, the easier it will be to get continued credit for your team even against heavy contrary winds. You need (wo)men of power to defend the long-term approach that supports innovation breakthroughs.

4) Tap resources from a bottomless well

More often than not, every innovation project is constrained by resources. Is it not common to lack the extra budget or extra guy with the skill-set needed to solve some of your main challenges ? The US lunar program had a major advantage over many innovation projects: 400,000 people were working on it all over the country and money could be printed without end.

If you do not have this luxury, open innovation and crowd-funding could be your bottomless well…

5) But also bring your “MacGyver” kit

Sometimes, budgets are like a dry river. Sometimes you just don’t have the tools required. In such cases, a “MacGyver” or “resource based” approach can be instrumental to innovation success. Look at what is at your disposal and be smart. An elegant solution is not always what you need. The first moon rover did not have the best look or most comfortable seats. But it did the job with smart ideas in every corner to adapt to the lunar conditions. You can develop at a later stage a more evolved version with Recaro seats and a Pininfarina design 😉

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6) Learn by doing and improve incrementally

Trials and errors belong to the fundamentals of innovation. The US lunar program had to try everything for the first time ever. Every step was giving them a new understanding of what was possible in a situation and how to handle it. Each problem was a new step and new learning opportunity. Knowing that a man could survive a launch did not prove that he would not burn when entering the atmosphere on the way back.

Hence, make small steps but don’t stay in your lab. The Truth Is Out There !

7) Never give up

Obviously, the odds of success are extremely low for every new product or idea given the number of choices to make at each development step and given the moving environment around you. Obviously, something that does not work well is not ideal. Obviously, you need to convince many people, sponsors, followers, early adopters, and finally users or buyers.

But ultimately, if your idea was good, if you found the right path, if you had the right support and if you had some luck, you could really bring your positive stone to our world.

So, Never Give Up !

Megatrends: a framework to strategically rethink your business

30 years after the initial publication of Megatrends by J. Naisbitt, this concept keeps being increasingly fashionable in the business world!

The Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies defines Megatrends as “the great forces in societal development that will very likely affect the future in all areas in the next 10-15 years”.

See hereafter their Top 10 Megatrends (http://www.cifs.dk/scripts/artikel.asp?id=1469)

1 – Ageing

2 – Globalization

3 – Technological development

4 – Prosperity

5 – Individualization

6 – Commercialization

7 – Health and environment

8 – Acceleration

9 – Network organizing

10 – Urbanization

Other institutes propose different rankings or additional trends and sub-trends such as Frost and Sullivan with the N11 (the next BRICS), Virtual reality, Mega-urban corridors, zero emission technologies, etc. (http://www.frost.com/sublib/display-report.do?bdata=bnVsbEB%2BQEJhY2tAfkAxMzQyOTAxMjAzMTcw&id=M65B-01-00-00-00)

But they mostly share the same big picture. Of course, some will wonder whether large-scale unpredictable events, the “black swans”, could divert the effects of Megatrends? Well, certainly but not all at once!

This is why, more and more companies use Megatrends very publicly to explain their strategic choices to stakeholders and to structure their path forwards. DSM for instance, used this framework focusing on the megatrends Health & Wellness, Climate & Energy and Global Shift, to justify and communicate on its radical and financially very successful transformation from a Petroleum-based chemical company to a Material & Life Science company.

What does this tell us?

Well, some companies rethink their market focus, products portfolio, culture and business models following Megatrends. They generate radical structural and cultural changes and impressive financial profits – others behave like dinosaurs and get extinct…

Following this model you could imagine a traditional fossil fuel car company mutating into a 100% electric car and scooter producer. They  could even enter into joint ventures to distribute clean electricity on the road in order to create the conditions for success.

Marketers, strategists and senior leaders should keep an alert eye on megatrends. They should use them to fuel their thinking process and project their company 20-30 years ahead. This powerful framework can help them decide which long term strategic initiatives to support. It can assist them in shaping the company future market choices, structure, culture and ultimately it’s chances of survival.

As an example, did your company consider the megatrend Personal Robotics?

Initial humanoid robots drawings date back from Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century. Then, the first patent holder for an industrial robot was American. Afterwards, Japanese pioneered mass robotics in global factories. With current progresses in IT and detection technologies, the time has come for a scale-change. According to the Japanese Robot Association, Personal Robotics will become a US$ 50 billion/year market by 2025. Japanese will certainly own a big share, though the world leading robot, NAO, is a French one.


Can you imagine robots performing difficult surgery, androids acting as nurses to help the elderly, to support kids education, to guard malls at night? Of course they will be replacing human workers, as was the case with industrial robots. But this trend will also result in a need for skilled workers in new areas, such as mecatronic engineering, repair services, apps development, training, etc. It will also enable businesses and institutions in many fields to rethink they way they handle multiple situations.

You can consider this Megatrend as a threat or an opportunity. Whatever your perception is, do not forget that someone will take advantage of it!

Therefore, the sooner you consider Megatrends within your strategic planning process, the sooner you can start adjusting your business and operation models as well as your pipe-line of innovative products.

Why not start brainstorming by reading “I robot” published in 1950 from Sci-Fi Author Isaac Assimov on the beach !

And after vacations, you can dig your old Sci-Fi novels from the attic and start envisioning more of our future world.

Don’t react, Anticipate.

Network collaboration: a key to breakthrough

Examining kids’ behaviors helps reflecting on the dynamics of innovation. In the playground, one kid finds a ball and begins to play on its own. He throws it in the air or against the wall. It’s fun at start but becomes very quickly boring as development options are limited. Another kid finds a ball, asks around for players and collaborates with others to create the right context for a fun game. One will be the goalkeeper, another one the attacker. Obviously the game can last much longer with much more evolution possibilities.

Let’s see how this applies to converting into reality the radical rethinking of an existing urban concept.

What comes to mind if I say “urban public buses”? Slow, crowded, uncomfortable, always late? Now what if you could get exactly the contrary: a bus which is fast, spacious, comfortable, right on time (by the way, thinking about contraries is a good methodology tip to generate innovative products)

Sounds like a great but utopist idea? Well, not fully… it does exist. Let me introduce the SUPERBUS!!!

Imagine a bus with 23 individual business style leather seats that picks you up where and when you wish and brings you at a speed of 250 km/hours where you have to go. And on top of that, it’s an electric one !

The concept in itself is great. It aims to provide a solution to changes that will result from different megatrends such as mobility, megacities and resource efficiencies.

However, to really breakthrough, the SUPERBUS project is dependent on the successful collaboration of different parties with very different interests, stakeholders and workings.  First you need a bus. Private manufacturers can do that, can’t they? Though, as it is a very daring concept, I am not sure that a standard bus manufacturer would jump in on day one. It is more a project for visionary CEO’s, such as Tesla’s electric sports cars CEO or Virgin boss once he is done with turning space into a tourist spot.  Then you need separate high-speed lanes between cities, and laws that allow high speed. Here, the players are politicians, public institutions, and citizens who might like the idea or oppose strongly as they do with new airports runways that disturb their quality of life. Of course you need electric power stations at the right places. And finally you need public bus companies and driving schools to cooperate to train and recruit bus drivers that could be able to join the Monaco formula 1 race…

As you can see, an invention can look great but converting it into reality often requires a very close and visionary collaboration between very different entities.

Be collaborative, be visionary, and above all be determined!

Nurture Startups in your ecosystem to keep the competitive edge

Vodaphone devised a very smart approach to open innovation which will certainly reinforce their competitive edge. It’s called Startup bootcamp. The concept is the following: They invited early stage Startups to settle down in their Amsterdam HQ for the first critical months of their existence.

By the way, Vodaphone’s HQ is one of the coolest office environment I’ve ever seen. They have it all: the cool design, the cubicles replaced by stairs, canteen tables or the sunny terrace and even more importantly, the baby-foot table. If they cannot be innovative there, nobody will !

During these critical months, Vodaphone provides mentoring and other types of support. They even have a devoted studio / pitching room to help startups practice public VC funding speeches.

They nurture startups on site rather than letting them operate in the distant outside world. They open their technology to them. This is a very smart way to ensure startups will develop solutions that fit their ecosystem. Of course, it also provides the opportunity to be the first to benefit from it.

Integrating startups early on in their ecosystem would certainly make sense for many industries at the intersection of a physical medium and creative content (e.g TV, music, press, video and related equipment companies)

Is that not as well and idea to explore for other sectors? I can think about old fashion automotive companies. What if they invited startups that develop green chemicals, hybrid technologies or online apps to work from an onsite startup floor. What if Pharma groups could do the same with datamining startups?

And what about your industry?

Breakthrough time: when all forces converge…

In many industries, one general product design dominates. Design might have evolved slightly over the last decades, but not fundamentally.

A major reason is that dominant players have low incentive to change once the market is at maturity. They invested once. Now, the cash-cow design should be milked. Another reason is that norms and habits are difficult (and expensive) to alter. The human mind tends to satisfy itself with what he is used to, even if it is suboptimal. I prefer not to tell you how many years it took me to switch from a PC full of bugs to a Mac…

But there is one more reason: the overall context must be ripe for the innovation to make sense to all players.

Let’s look at heavy trucks. They did not change so much since you were born did they? They are heavy and rectangular. And I don’t even speak about US heavy trucks, which are monsters compared to their European counterparts. You can easily imagine their Cx (aerodynamic factor) and the resulting fuel consumption. Actually, more energy-efficient designs were suggested to the industry over the years. However, petrol was cheap. Regulations were not focusing on energy-saving or CO2 emission. What incentive did freight companies or truck producers have to invest in new trucks that solved such environmental issues?

But now that regulations, governmental programs, variable costs and customer mindset all converge in the same direction, time has surely come for the development and easier adoption of a new design.

Success time for an innovation is when all forces converge in the market environment.

Has the time come for yours?

A new blog: inspire & share innovation best practices

Innovation, whether it is about launching new products or adopting new ways to do business shares some features with any new market entry (industries, customer segments new geographies). It is in most cases a slow, difficult, ambiguous process. Outcomes are highly uncertain. It can be at times highly frustrating for those in charge of making it happen. However, it is a very rewarding job from an intellectual perspective and experience gain. Besides, it has the “fun factor” that lacks (at least for people like me) in routine activities. It can also provide large financial rewards to individuals, companies, industries and even countries when the sweetspot is discovered.

But above all innovation, having a flexible mindset and entering new markets in general are a must. The world evolves more quickly every day. Individual tastes change over time. Emerging countries can still produce cheaper than developed ones. Now they even innovate, threatening what advanced countries believed to be their single property. In a global economy, where capital, knowledge and human resources are highly mobile, the capacity to renew itself, to add more value is critical to revitalize growth in the developed world  – leaving austerity and unemployment at bay, rather than shutting down borders and advocating isolation as the solution. It is also one of the keys to exit poverty in emerging nations, enabling them to earn the right to sit at the table of the big nations. The freedom to choose, is better than being a debtors forever.

Making innovation happen is my daily life, with it’s achieved milestones and challenges. Despite common points with any market entry, the path to success in innovation also follows some peculiar rules, which are not well-known. I will share my practical insights in this blog that are relevant to new market entries in general and those more specific to “innovation”. There are people of course who have more experience than I have in this field. I would not hesitate to recommend their books. I am not an academic (though I did study all the theories during my Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA). I am not a consultant (hence don’t expect me to draw to many models).  I am also not a native English speaker (don’t expect language wonders here). I am an industry practitioner, in charge of leading on a daily basis an innovation program aiming to introduce a game-changing technology. I am also a believer in the benefits of innovation.

This blog will contain notably best practices, innovators interviews, innovative ideas presentations and polls, books and articles recommendations, and more to come around ideas that can improve our world.

My intention is to inspire you to question status quo (in your company and in life in general) and share practical experience. My goal is to help you transform ideas into tangible (and profitable) realities that improve life. Hope I will help!

Be open – Be passionate – Have fun – Challenge status quo – Dare to act – Improve life