Why the Chamber of Commerce Matters to Innovation Professionals

Small companies and big companies are interconnected. They supply and support one another. Failure of a large core company in a community can have a devastating impact. Failure of a small company, a critical supplier, can disrupt a large organization. Large companies can be skill pumps for a local community. As they change and reorganize they chip off highly experienced and skilled people. As communities and professions we benefit from this temporary personnel disruption. Look at all of the former “Fortune 500” employees that are now adjunct professors and entrepreneurs. I am one of these, having been spun out of Philips due to the sale of a small division, and the Innovation Focus family of companies is the result.

When the quality movement hit, it hit the big companies first but it did not succeed in our culture until it filtered to the small suppliers to the big firms. Innovation will be the same way. We cannot win the long term innovation battle as individual companies. We can only truly win as a community of companies with innovation principles passing as standard practice into our working life. This means that the tools of today’s innovation manager need to be more accessible.

I recently had the opportunity to address 600 Chamber of Commerce members. I started by pointing out that the very air we were breathing in the room was the result of decades of aggressive innovation and effort by dozens of HVAC companies around the globe. Big or little, local or global, there are just a few things a company must know and make reality.

  • Innovation must be strategy-driven (What are we trying to get out of our innovation program and what are we willing to invest to get it?)
  • Innovation must be team-based and cross-functional (Is my whole organization involved, not just one or two excited individuals?)
  • Innovation needs an agreed-to process: (Do we have a process that can be measured and improved; is it both fact based and creative?)
  • Innovation requires a team that is devoted to the service of the customer (Do you know what your customer really needs and how those needs will change? Can you be there before the change occurs so you can help them?)

Size doesn’t matter. National Bearings, a 60 person company traditional bearing manufacturer, was able to use solid innovation processes to reinvent itself and become National QualPec, a specialist in medical equipment sub-assemblies.

When every company in the Chamber of Commerce is stepping up its innovation game; when every supplier is offering a challenging idea to every customer; innovation will truly be established and sustainable in our companies.

So if you are seeking to promote sustainable innovation in your company don’t forget to promote it in your community.

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