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Reflections on My Spring European Innovation Trip

It was a whirlwind trip, covering six countries over eleven days. During the trip, I had the chance to sit with fourteen companies, twelve of which are Global 2000 players. I also squeezed in an interview with the senior editor of a French PLM publication. All in all, it was a fascinating and exhilarating two weeks.

It was a whirlwind trip, covering six countries over eleven days. 
During the trip, I had the chance to sit with fourteen companies, twelve of which
are Global 2000 players.  I also squeezed in an interview with the senior
editor of a French PLM
publication.   All in all, it was a fascinating and exhilarating two
weeks.

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I posted some initial impressions from the first half of my trip a week
ago.  Now after having a few days back in the office, here are my closing
thoughts on my European innovation tour.

The pulse of innovation is clearly beating and strong across Europe. 
I saw a deep commitment to building sustainable innovation competence at all the
companies I met with, and the recognition that innovation is the best vehicle
to build value, especially in these turbulent times, is universal.

Companies can’t afford to wait on innovation.  This theme emerged as a
dominant current.  One case that really drives home this point was that of
a company I met with in Germany. 
This company has been particular hard hit in the current recession.  Much
of their business has traditionally come from the automotive sector and other
customers stockpiled inventory during better times.  So, now they find
themselves in the incomprehensible position of managing through a 75% drop in
year over year revenue.  It would not be surprising under such
circumstances for a company to roll up the carpet and put a halt to all innovation
activity.  However, this company is has taken a hard look at what they
need to do in order to weather the storm and emerge stronger.  They are
investing in innovation.

Innovation isn’t just for the big boys.  Two of the companies I met
with fall in the classification of mid-side, not large, entities.  These
companies have visions of creating value through innovation that are just as
ambitious and forward looking as I have seen anywhere.  In truth, this
comes as no surprise to me.  While most of the organizations I touch fall
in the G2000, I have always had many touch points in the SMB space including
start-ups and even the occasion lone-wolf practitioner.  Through these
interactions, I have seen that no group has cornered the market on innovation. 
Large companies do have certain assets they can leverage if they are committed
to the innovation game.  But, small organizations also have advantages
they can use to gain an edge and create game-changing value.

Services companies need to re-innovate their products too.  This would
seem to be obvious, but I see many services companies that are lagging in
innovation.  This is very dangerous for these companies.  Services
companies can be very agile if they choose to be.  What they must never
forget is that this is also true of their competition.  Services companies
are very vulnerable to disruption and need to be thinking about how to create
unique value which is difficult to replicate.  The last thing a service
company can afford is to be competing solely on price.

Companies are still unable to leverage information intelligently.  Yet,
the intelligent use of information is at the core of innovation.  This is
a paradox that companies must resolve to drive their innovation engine on all
cylinders.  Leading companies are investing in new technologies to
knowledge enable their innovation workers so that they can produce more, higher
value innovations, in a reliable, repeatable manner.

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I am very encouraged by what I saw throughout Europe. 
While it will take considerable time to work our way through the difficult
times we are experiencing, it is clear that many companies are doing the right
things to plan not merely to survive, but to thrive.  These companies are
pursuing sustainable innovation practices to shape their future and to build
the economy of tomorrow today.