How rapidly does Innovation change things? How and when should we adapt to it?

A hint at answers to these questions can be found in the famous Boiled Frog anecdote. As the story goes (I haven’t actually tried it) if a frog is placed in cool water that is gradually warmed it will grow accustomed to the temperature change and stay in the pot until it cooks, whereas if you drop a frog into a pot of hot water it will jump right out. A moral of the story is that it is harder to notice gradual change that is happening right around you than it is an abrupt significant change.

Innovation often parallels both of these frog scenarios. Sometimes innovation occurs gradually and is difficult to notice and sometimes it changes things very rapidly and leads to immediate disruptions.

There is little doubt that innovation can be the cause significant change. Blockbuster video provides a great and not too distant example. Blockbuster took an existing business model and put together a winning formula for rapid growth and subsequently enjoyed stellar success. That is until Netflix came along, first with mail order DVDs, and then with the more disruptive streaming technology. In a relatively short period of time Blockbuster video went from Boom to Bust.

Right now the manufacturing industry is approaching similar innovation fueled changes. Some will be gradual while others will change things very rapidly. How does one keep up with these changes and decide when to climb on board?

One way is to follow and/or be involved with what is happening with the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). As several other newsletter articles in this issue describe there are five current and three proposed NNMI centers working to ramp up the adoption and adaption of market ready innovations in such areas as Digital and Additive Manufacturing. These networks are joint public/private ventures designed to accelerate the adoption of innovation so that American industry will continue to thrive and lead.

The WMEP is actively involved in working with these NNMI centers of innovation to assure that all Wisconsin Manufacturers are aware of the opportunities they present and have early access to emerging innovations related to their industries. The WMEP has featured NNMI leaders such as U.S Manufacturing Czar Michael Molnar at our Manufacturing Matters! Conference, described Wisconsin applications of these innovations at our monthly Lunch N Learns (e.g. July 2015 Lunch N Learn focused on Additive Metal Manufacturing), and we are actively working with parties evaluating whether to try to bring a $140 million NNMI center to Milwaukee.

It is an exciting time to be a Wisconsin Manufacturer and the WMEP is committed to helping Wisconsin Manufacturers make the most of these emerging innovations.