When good advice is darely needed and ideas are rare, an ideation workshop can help.…
Technical Problem Solving: Technology innovation means cracking tough nuts
Or: How to solve any technical problem with ease
Lars Lindner* is an engineer and technician. With body and soul. Since finishing his studies, he has been busy with technical products and groundbreaking new processes, always driven by the will to actively promote progress. To identify challenges and eliminate them through technical problem solving. Simply because it can be done. He has already seen everything from cooling systems to power plants, paper machines, ventilation systems and supplier parts for the automotive industry and has worked on them all. “Satisfied people never move the world forward” is his motto. Lars Lindner knows that things can always go one step further. And that’s what he’s passionate about.
Lars Lindner wants to drive technological progress and innovation
Today, Lars Lindner is a team leader in the research and pre-development department of an industrial supplier. Mainly filters, pumps, separators and everything where gases and liquids are conveyed, cleaned or separated from each other. As a team leader, he now faces new challenges. He can no longer solve every problem and work out all the details by himself. Team members and colleagues from other departments need to be empowered to create technical progress. Lars Lindner knows that it is possible. Getting the others on board and convincing them to get involved is his challenge.
Innovation in a technical environment usually means technical problem solving
Innovation, or more specifically, technology innovation, is a big word for Lars Lindner. Sure, it’s about inspiring the customer in new ways. In his company, the focus is clearly on a single aspect of innovation. Customer relationships have existed for a long time and are not in any danger – as long as you keep up with the market in terms of technology and price. The customer’s problems are also clear. No malfunctions, no downtimes, and best of all: The customer is not even aware of the pumps, filters, etc., in their systems at all. But you can’t be complacent. Maintenance, repair and parts replacement are still the reality. For Lars Lindner, innovation in day-to-day business therefore consists of overcoming technical hurdles, making the impossible possible and driving technological or technical problem solving. To invent, to question established technologies and to think beyond existing horizons… to innovate!
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Engineers usually lack the courage to think big.
A very special project serves as an example of what Lars Lindner struggles with. It’s about a complex filtering solution. Expensive and complicated to manufacture. Difficult to handle and maintain. So, it’s also expensive to procure and to operate. Certainly, this solution was justified at the time it was developed. But by today’s standards, it is no longer up-to-date. Far too expensive. Far too complex! “But there’s no other way!” – “You just have to accept things as they are!” – “We’ve already had so many ideas” – “We’ve already tried everything!” Developers lack courage and self-confidence, and management lacks the confidence to free up resources. Lars Lindner feels powerless.
Everyone should broaden their perspectives to realize that the seemingly impossible is possible.
Lars Lindner is tempted to go to the drawing board himself and create realities on his own. He discusses his inner conflict with TOM SPIKE’S innovation consultancy team. TOM SPIKE understands that more is possible than everyone thinks – and that Lars Lindner has to create successes in order to get his team going – despite the fact that he feels powerless and not understood. Or precisely because of that! The experience of hundreds of technology innovations shows that innovation is always possible.
The more complex the technology, the more important interdisciplinary teams are.
A concrete technical challenge has arisen. Something that many lone warriors have already had a go at solving. Teams have even gotten involved. But there is more at stake than this single problem. Development personnel must also dare to think outside the box and gain new knowledge until that kind of thinking comes naturally. Actually, it is quite clear what needs to be done:
- Bring together a handful of experts and get the problem off the table within two days. A clearly structured approach and led by experienced innovators.
- Communicate success. To other teams, to management, and of course, to the customer.
- It is clear to the team and to company management that targeted technology innovation works, and that Lars Lindner is the man to make it happen. Use this energy and establish a proven approach for future issues.
To convince others of innovation, you have to be convinced yourself.
Basically, Lars Lindner is clear that the procedure works. He has already gone through it many times in the past. In many companies. But now he is the prophet in a new wilderness. Lars Lindner has his doubts. Ultimately, he is a technician. He is familiar with technical issues. But he is not a missionary. He didn’t learn how to be one. His colleagues are hesitant. They think there is no solution because no one has come up with one yet. Will the team give a multi-day workshop a chance? Or will skepticism capsize the whole ship and leave just wreckage floating on the surface? The specific concerns are:
- The team will not have any new ideas. They’re just not open to them.
- The boss will not be thrilled because the result will be “just ideas again”. And anyway, no one really knows how the boss ticks.
- If there are results, then the ideas will be too abstract and have no relation to the actual problem at hand. This was typical of previous brain storming sessions.
Innovation is a team sport, not an individual event
Your own comfort zone is a major obstacle to successful innovation. Trying things you’ve never done before. Getting people on board who have never been there before. Walking paths that no one has ever trodden. TOM SPIKE helps you overcome this feeling of insecurity. The clear advice of the experienced innovation consultants to Lars Lindner is this: “Get all the stakeholders together, both the benevolent and the critical, the experts and the decision-makers. Together, we’ll do the persuasion work and answer questions.” His concerns are, of course, real. And they need solutions.
- Could it be that the team will not have any new ideas? TOM SPIKE has never experienced this – ever. With the right approaches, new ideas always come. And the team is not alone. In technology innovation, the knowledge of hundreds of thousands of innovators and inventors is available to you. Knowledge about the principles of invention, solution patterns, and the spiritual power of experts. This power is always there. Setting it free is what TOM SPIKE is expert at doing.
- Will the boss be disappointed? Your superior is an important participant. Understanding what he wants is crucial. Only if he is convinced that the problem is worth solving will he support later implementation of a solution with arguments and resources. The team cannot do without this support. Once you understand what the boss wants, it will get done.
- Is there a real risk that, in the end, all you’ll get is a huge bunch of abstract, useless ideas? If the only answer to the question “How do we create ideas” is “brainstorming”, then that is a real possibility. But with proven tools and methods, there is no risk. The scope is clearly defined. The available potential of intellectual energy is concentrated on a clearly defined challenge. And in case of doubt, a clear guarantee of success is formulated at the start.
For Lars Lindner, a lot is at stake
If he doesn’t tackle the topic of technology innovation, it will take some time before anyone else does. More and more projects will likely fall victim to the company’s daily grind of optimization and efficiency issues. And even more projects will fail because no one is willing to take on the “impossible” and thus achieve what is actually possible. In addition, times are turbulent for industrial companies. Competition from Asian countries is growing and has to be taken seriously. The weakening domestic market in Asia is bringing new competitors to Europe and North America. And changes in the automotive industry are compelling an increasing number of automotive suppliers to enter the industrial market. For Lars Lindner, the danger is that his company will slip further into the commodity business where customers can only be secured by offering the lowest price. A price war that cannot be won in the long run. And a price war that Lars Lindner doesn’t enjoy anyway. No one in his company does.
Technology innovation for long-term success and increased self-confidence
Enough doom and gloom! Where could successful technology innovation take Lars Lindner and his company? Examples from all industries show what is possible. Together with his team, Lars Lindner will develop an outstanding technical solution that will put his company years ahead of its competitors. Be it through patents and property rights, or simply through the time gained. It takes at least one to two years for competitors to copy good solutions. In addition, the team will gain new confidence with the knowledge that it can achieve a technological advantage. And for Lars Lindner, the confirmation of what he has always known beckons: That great things are possible if you just believe it is so and the entire company pulls together.
He will have initiated a movement that can transform the company from an efficiency optimizer to an innovator. Lars will be the one who the company management turns to when it needs someone to lead technical products into the future. The culture of self-doubt and lethargy will give way to confidence and energy. The company will be better than ever. Its products will achieve a high market profile. With solutions that no one had thought of before.
In two days, the team cracks the toughest nuts: Technical problem solving par excellence
Crack the toughest nuts. This is exactly what the two-day workshop for developers, production staff and other functional areas is all about. Precisely those tough nuts that the experts have already tried to crack for more than half a year – in vain. The workshop goes beyond wishy-washy “brainstorming sessions” and leads the team toward actually addressing the technical challenges – step by step.
What has already been tried? Why didn’t it work? What has already been discussed, but never really tried? The total knowledge the team possesses is like a puzzle. Everyone knows something different and there is initially no agreement on which nut has to be cracked at all. In the end, however, the one-day kick-off succeeded in clearly structuring the challenge at hand. Nevertheless, the direct exchange of experiences is the decisive step. Technically fundamental considerations, analyses and collections of ideas followed. Technical problem solving and in-depth analyses quickly create blinders. Therefore, it was necessary to open and expand minds and horizons. A real challenge for the moderators.
But they succeed: After two days, an incredible variety of promising solutions were identified. In the last phase of the two-day workshop, the results were merged, bundled, evaluated and prioritized. What remained were three promising solution concepts. A small portfolio of different levels of innovation and implementation schedules was selected. Short-, medium- and long-term concepts. All of them are now being implemented in prototype in order to confirm their technical feasibility, customer acceptance and cost-effectiveness. In a year, the product should be on the market. Experts, managers and Lars Lindner are equally relieved, convinced and euphoric.
From timid lone warrior to respected trailblazer
Solutions that can be implemented directly and commitment from experts and executives. Lars Lindner’s doubts have evaporated. The proof that technology innovation can be fueled with targeted leadership and methodology is now clearly evident. With strengthened self-confidence, he and the team get to work on implementing the developed solution. And the next topics are already waiting. Technical problem solving is no longer regarded as a myth; it is a craft. More tough nuts are waiting to be cracked. And as of today, it is clear who the company can rely on to crack them: Lars Lindner.
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