Many strategy processes start with the question “how can we improve our business?”. This is a question leading to many possible routes, but keeping in touch with where the major lines and trends around you are moving is always important. In our increasingly disruptive age, many of the drivers for new strategy are coming from the functionality of new products or solutions. So how can you as an industrial company keep your company in front of the rest or obtain that situation? I will show you some of my ideas on how you, by utilizing already available solutions out there, can take the necessary steps to ensure you’re the one who disrupts, not being the one that’s disrupted.
Create a culture for innovation
This is obvious you might think. Yes, I completely agree that it is. And that is why it is so hard. To have a good culture for innovation, you have to stimulate your co-workers to ask questions. Moreover, the questions are bound to be on subjects you know a lot about. So keep doing that. The ability to innovate really lies in the ability to ask enough questions. By asking these questions, some examples of answers will appear.
Important as it is, it can be tricky to continuously update your tool box. It demands both stamina and precision, and willingness to invest in areas that can spend 2-3 years at least before giving substantial return-on-investment (ROI). My best advice is for sure to give dedicated people the room to play. Search for cross functional knowledge, let them search. And make innovation pace a key performance indicator of your company’s health state. Can you for instance utilize new sustainable additives like the microfibrillated cellulose in your new efforts? Could synergy between your current solutions and new functional performance products like the MFC improve your performance?
At the end I think it all relates to being able to set clear goals and utilize the tools to fulfill your strategy, not use strategy to fulfill strategy. If the strategy and goals are clearly communicated, your colleagues will quickly understand what tools is necessary to reach the goals of that strategy. Which brings me over to disruptiveness.
Stay in front of the disruptiveness by looking for shifts
Several initiatives on plastic substitution has taken place in the latter years as an example. UN declared war on ocean plastic in February 2017 to turn the spotlight on the problems of environmental issue. Separately, they might not like a major shifts at a first glance (due to their complexity or even worse, direct effect on our daily lives), but imagine what will happen to the plastic producers if producers of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) and consumers actually asks for the replacement of plastic products? This is how many disruptive initiatives start, slow and visually insignificant at its starting point, but quickly picking up speed along the way. Many disruptive innovation areas may not be as obvious as replacement of plastic, but my message is simple: the key of disruptiveness and staying in front is looking at these initiatives and try to find obvious advantages.
The EU states through their report “Plastic waste in the environment” that 230 million tons of plastic was produced in 2009. It was also reported in 2012 that the plastic production globally was at 241 million tons. Challenging the food packaging industry on plastic use can give major shifts as an example. Adding up the number of sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives out there quickly give you an idea that the technologies for replacing plastics are emerging. And the number is rapidly growing.
Polylactic acid (PLA) can for sure give us some very interesting opportunities in plastic material replacement, and adding on the highly interesting nature of the microfibrillated cellulose's barrier properties, the ideas start to emerge. What about creating an improved food packaging, increasing the shelf life of “best before” products? Suddenly, food packaging producers have a significant opportunity to innovate in order to stay ahead of competition. And even more important: leading the way for consumers instead of being led.
Stay sharp and alert!
You need to stay awake, the initiatives in your value chain may take place far away from yourself. But the impact on you will be significant. You can do everything right in your business and still suffer from the types of disruptive innovations. But the important question is how you have set up your business to be part of the disruptive solutions rather than only being struck by them.
My point is; the disruptions may often come from downstream initiatives, while a lot of your solutions (even the ones you do not know about) can be found upstream. New initiatives on the additive front may even give you competitive advantages if you look both upstream and downstream at the same time. You will probably need a cross-functional team to do this, understanding the dynamics both upstream and downstream.
This may be challenging, but I promise you: it will be the decisive factor for how you will create your future competitive edge.