Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Innovation Leap Frogging


This blog discusses the value of Innovation Leap Frogging and what the manufacturing sector can do tomorrow morning to think outside the box and reinvent your future. Practical proven tips are outlined - all with the vision of helping Canadian manufacturing companies to take a leadership position with renewed energy and results. It is all about reshaping what we think we see.


When I was growing up I loved to play with frogs. They were a passionate pastime in rural Alberta that I have fond memories of. One of the innate qualities of being a frog is you never fear hopping forward when confronted with a new challenge. Frogs persistently rethink the patterns of play in all directions. No leap in any direction is too much of a stretch to a frog. We stress in business the increased need for resilience, agility, increasing innovation capacity and managing risk all in one breath. We need to remember what leapfrogging is all about and remember the great stories of success in the manufacturing sector. Let's not forget what Lockheed did that we can also still learn from as we create our future together.

The pattern of leapfrogging is a well researched concept in the business world and in the field of innovation. One of the most fundamental requirements is to invest in your workforce so you tap into the power of your people- helping them to stay connected and learn the power of collaborating effectively. People make remarkable things happen within organizations. Leapfrogging won't be found in the latest IT gadgets - they help for sure, but the ideas start with your people and their execution confidence they will be supported. The root of leapfrogging health lies in trust. A short word that has root systems that will either help a company grow or simply wilt slowly away. Too many companies we consult and work with have missed this root system complexity and are afraid to tackle this head on. Without trust embedded in leadership systems, human DNA is weakened... so

Step back and ask yourself three questions:

1.) What is your innovation people inspirational plan to LEAPFROG your company forward?
2.) How can your customers, partners, and employees develop your LEAPFROG plan?
3.) How do you measure up in the Leapfrog Innovation Assessment Test Question? (How strong is trust and confidence in your organization's human performance systems - do you know?)


Thinking and Innovating differently has to start with a LEAPFROG Plan. In the manufacturing sector - Let's not forget the great story of Lockheed and its Stealth Revolution

In the 1950s, Lockheed was a relatively minor player in conventional fighters and bombers; its major product was the F-104, sold to the Air Force. After the F-104, Lockheed continued to try to get mainstream development contracts for conventional military aircraft, but for more than two decades, it failed. Meanwhile, Lockheed started to focus on developing top-secret, highly specialized, reconnaissance aircraft. Eventually, it developed the SR-71Blackbird spy plane using stealth technology. Throughout the '60s, it continued to develop its expertise in covert reconnaissance aircraft using stealth technology.

Starting in the 1970s, the Air Force and the Department of Defense became increasingly interested in stealth technology for use in a broader range of combat aircraft. In 1974, competitive study contracts to develop design concepts for a stealthy combat aircraft were sent to Northrop, McDonnell-Douglas, General Dynamics, Fairchild, and Grumman. All but Fairchild responded. Lockheed was originally omitted from the competition because Pentagon officials were not aware of certain work Lockheed had done on a classified CIA project.

After joining the competition, Lockheed's engineers submitted an extremely unconventional design nicknamed the "Hopeless Diamond." McDonnell-Douglas, one of the dominant manufacturers of combat aircraft at the time, produced a variant of one of its previous designs. Pentagon officials realized that Lockheed's design was a revolutionary one with the potential to produce an aircraft with unparalleled stealthness. Lockheed and Northrop (also a small niche, stealth player which gained its experience in stealth technology through in-house study efforts launched in the 1960s, and used that experience in technology for lightweight export fighters) were the two contractors selected to develop the ideas further. Lockheed was awarded a full-scale development contract for the subsonic stealth fighter-attack aircraft later designated the F-117. This aircraft was used to great effect in Desert Storm and is currently being used over Kosovo.

The design for the successful F-117 was a gigantic leap forward in technological innovation. The design was so revolutionary and so risky that a dominant firm most likely would not have attempted it; only a firm hoping to break into the market would have taken such risks. Even within Lockheed, some counseled that the revolutionary design was too risky. Walter J. Boyne, in his book Beyond the Horizons: The Lockheed Story, explains that Lockheed's chairman, Bob Haack, "...would have to think long and hard about funding a costly project that might not prove out."

But, as Boyne concluded, by scraping the financial cupboard almost bare, they managed to provide [the money for the design], at a time when Lockheed's finances were near their lowest ebb. This showed remarkable insight and courage on the part of upper management, just recovering from the long siege of anti-Lockheed publicity. They took grave risks when utter conservatism was a safer choice; and they did so because they knew Lockheed needed to begin selling aircraft to the government again.

Without Lockheed's innovative design, a strategy designed to move the company out of its niche, the stealth revolution would not have been nearly as successful.

Having established itself as a player, what happened to Lockheed? At the request of the Air Force, and because of the extensive knowledge and experience it had with stealth technologies, it went on to build the F-22 Stealth Air Superiority Fighter. Building upon and refining its work on the F-117 plane, Lockheed teamed up with General Dynamics and Boeing and was selected in April 1991 for full-scale development of the aircraft. The F-22 is expected to be the premier Air Force air-superiority fighter well into the 21st century, partly because of its design and partly because of the high-quality industrial team.

So, at the beginning of the stealth revolution, when Lockheed was a niche player, it took a huge risk with its "leap-frog" innovation, which resulted in the radical design of the F-117. Later, as Lockheed became one of the market leaders in stealth technology, it focused on improving its core skills of stealth technology and developed the incrementally innovative F-22 design. Both planes were innovative, but in different fashions. The success of the F-117 radically altered the status quo. It undercut the previous market leaders' dominance and made their expertise in certain fields irrelevant. The F-22, while also innovative, reinforced Lockheed's position as the market leader in advanced combat aircraft.

Lockheed's story illustrates the importance of diversity in innovations and the principle that "the most fertile soil for innovation is a rich loam of differently situated firms." Indeed, diversity and variety are key to maintaining and promoting innovation in a market. While I've focused here on size of firms and market position, other forms of diversity exist that can enrich the generation of innovation, such as R&D joint ventures, vertical relationships, and collaborations between large and small firms.

Research Source: Leap Frog and other Forms of Innovation: Protecting the Future for High Tech and Emerging Industries, address excerpts from Constance Robinson, US Department of Justice (1999)
Bookmark and Share