The workmate workbench case study describes an innovative woodwork idea that was developed by Ron Hickman several decades ago, before it was modified by Black & Decker, an American manufacturing company specializing in power tools and “Do-it-yourself” products. In their introductory remarks, the two authors concur that the market for DIY products has exponentially grown in the last three decades. This trend is attributed to the increase in the number of people who own houses and regular TV programs, which emphasize the need for homes and house ownership (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 13). Similarly, the number of stores selling DIY products has increased, with the Workmate of Ron Hickman being given preference by most dealers. Based on this, the two writers describe how Ron developed the idea even though he never worked with DIY but had experience in Formula 1 racing (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 13).
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Hickman hailed from South Africa and had interest in car design. He worked with Ford in 1950s as a car stylist before joining Lotus Cars in London in the year 1958. Based on his interest, Hickman was actively involved in the designing of Lotus 25 racing car that was to be used in Formula 1 racing. While at Lotus Cars, he served as a general manager for the company’s development and he is highly credited for the success that was realized in 1962 after the company developed Lotus Elan sports car (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 13).
Despite his success at Lotus, Hickman did not stay forever in designing of racing cars; he left the company in late 1960s. He obeyed his DIY obsession when he began designing a workbench that was meant to hold pieces of wood while being sawn. This idea was triggered by an incident in which he accidentally cut off the leg of a chair while sawing a piece of wood. He highly valued the needs of DIY enthusiasts, who mainly worked under limited time and resources. His product was to be foldable to facilitate its portability and storage (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 13). He engaged different ideas and approaches in developing the idea and advanced from a workbench with one beam to that which had two parallel beams with a holding vice to position the piece of wood during sawing. Even though he lacked formal training and experience, his development process was a source of fresh ideas in solving the problem at hand (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 14).
In 1968, Hickman patented his design as an initial stage of protecting his hard work and intellectual property. This was also aimed at making the product commercial and saleable in the market. Since he lacked knowledge about DIY market, he considered involving a manufacturer to pick up his product for production and marketing through a contractual agreement. However, all the eight companies he approached gave him a negative response (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 14). At this point, he changed his mind and got determined to manufacture and market his product as “Workmate,” making four thousand units by 1970s. Having seen the potential of the product, one of the companies that had rejected his initial offer, Black & Decker approached him for a manufacturing deal in 1972. Through the agreement, Hickman was to receive 3% of sales per unit as a royalty payment. Even though some people had already seen the product, it was an uphill task to convince the parent company about the viability of the product. The deal turned out to be quite successful, since there was no any other product in the DIY market comparable to the “Workmate.” Although several improvements were made, main features of the design have remained unaltered. In thirty years of business, “Workmate” sold over fifty million units and remains unbeaten brand in the DIY market today (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 14).
Innovation – what it is and why it matters
This segment of the report gives a summary of the book, Managing Innovation: Integrating Technological, Market and Organizational Change, by Tidd and Bessant, published in the year 2009 by John Wiley and Sons. It covers weighty issues discussed by the two authors in chapter one of the book.
Tidd and Bessant introduce the chapter by noting that innovation is mainly driven by the ability of a person or organization to identify connections and opportunities and take advantage of them. On the other hand, innovation does not merely refer to establishing new markets, but can aim at serving existing ones successfully. In advancing innovations, it is doubtless that there are certain factors, which play significant roles in the entire process (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 3). One of these factors is technology, which has been found to be cost-effective and efficient in achieving set goals and objectives. Technology also offers alternative solutions that are more affordable in solving problems. Importantly, innovation is not restricted to the manufacturing industry. Other sectors like banking and insurance can also develop innovative ideas to maximize their production and service delivery. Similarly, public services like healthcare, education and social security may not necessarily make profit from their daily activities but they impact millions of people. They therefore need new ideas to promote and maintain high quality of services (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 3).
Why innovation matters
Most successful organizations share similarities when compared. Even though competitive advantage among these organizations may show the same pattern, the trend mostly favors those that are able to harness knowledge and skills through application of technology (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 5). It is also important to underscore the fact that innovation has a huge impact, beyond individual enterprises; it affects national economies and the world at large. This has been the case for several centuries, starting 1700s. For this to be effective, Tidd and Bessant note that leaders of organizations must play a crucial role in linking business performance with innovative activities. It therefore suffices to mention that innovation has become the backbone of national economies in the world today, with countries engaging resources and efforts to turn ideas and knowledge into consumable goods and services. The process is about entrepreneurship, where one is able to spot and make good use of them as soon as possible. Based on this analogy, risk-taking is considered to be a core principle in promoting innovative ideas within the market (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 5).
In their 2009 research, Tidd and Bessant emphasize that innovation contributes to the success of a given company in various ways. A good example is the fact that performance of a market largely depends on the presence of new products, which are realized through creative approaches. In other words, competitiveness in sales does not only depend on low price, but also on quality, design and customization (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 6). Creation of new products is also paramount since business environment is ever-changing, thus addressing diverse needs and market demands. In this line of thought, new products and process innovation play significant roles, equal to those associated with strategic planning of a business. Additionally, Tidd and Bessant affirm that the ability of a firm to offer better services in terms of quality, speed and low cost is a major source of establishing a competitive edge in the market place. For instance, Citibank is well known for being the first bank to offer ATMs and maintained a strong market position, backed with a stable process in innovation (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 6). Nevertheless, most innovative ideas and processes get competed away through imitation. At this point, organizations have no alternative but to remain in an innovative gear.
Similarly, service innovation has exponentially grown into a phenomenon that is highly associated with the rise in internet usage. This has created a wide range of business opportunities by altering the manner in which many people have known the information and technology sector (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 6). New markets have emerged due to radical disturbance caused on existing ones. From online banking to online shopping, many organizations have been forced to shift from paper work and analogue way of doing business to a digitalized world. This is said to have promoted efficacy in most sectors and generated some hitches in others. The internet poses countless challenges including but not limited to security threats and costs. On the other hand, innovation offers a host of advantages to individual and corporate business owners and to the entire market. For instance, it offers unique products, exclusive delivery channels, complicated products, licensed products and the basis for market competition (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 10).
Changing innovation context
When comparing current innovation and previous trends, there is distinction between the two periods. How is the current innovation characterized? Current innovation has accelerated production knowledge and distribution of this knowledge around the globe. Additionally, today’s innovation has led to market fragmentation, an occurrence that exerts pressure on innovation since a wider market scope is to be covered. Additionally, virtual business transactions have become common due to the rise in the use of the internet around the world. Together with technological and social infrastructure, the context of innovation has significantly influenced the world (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 10).
What is innovation?
In defining innovation, Tidd and Bessant refer to Thomas Edison, who registered over a thousand patents during his lifetime. They however note that innovation can be defined with different words although they emphasize the need to complete the development and harnessing of new ideas and not mere inventions. In this chapter, the authors describe invention as the first step that is made in order to bring a new idea to the limelight for effective utilization (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 15).
Types of innovation
With the need for innovation being dominant in the world, it is important to understand current innovative ways through identification of opportunities and radical exploitation of technological discoveries. Besides this, it is essential to locate where and how new markets can be established. This allows thriving of exploited ideas, especially when the survey is done in a thorough way (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 20). Additionally, innovation may focus at serving existing markets through improved services and products. Such an approach aims at meeting the changing needs of a market, which arise from increased population. Lastly, it is worth noting that innovation does not only focus on the manufacturing sector but also on the service industry, which has turned out to be competitive. This has significantly been augmented by the rise in use of the internet.
Dimensions of innovation space
There are four dimensions of innovation space, which are product innovation, process innovation, position innovation and paradigm innovation. By description, product innovation refers to changes which occur in the services and products offered by a given organization. On the other hand, process innovation entails changes involving how the services and products are created and delivered. Position innovation refers to changes in the context of how new products are introduced to the market. Lastly, paradigm innovation denotes changes in existing mental schemes that define an organization’s activities (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 21).
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Aspects of innovation
Aspects of innovation refer to characteristics of innovation, which have impact in making decisions with regard to how and when to play. These aspects are:
- Incremental or radical innovation
- Platforms and families of innovations
- Discontinuous innovation
- Level of innovation – component or architecture
- Timing – the innovation life cycle
Incremental or radical innovation
This concept concerns the level of novelty involved in the entire innovation process and space. It is important to note that there are various degrees of novelty, which include minor incremental improvements and others considered to be radical. In other words, these changes may be mild, thus affecting a small section of the market or radical to influence the entire society. Examples include the historic Industrial Revolution or changes emanating from communication and technological advancements (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 26). These differences are important even though the degree of novelty varies from an individual’s perspective. Importantly, the process of innovation usually occurs in an incremental manner that focuses on doing the same thing but in a better way. These changes have received considerable attention in recent years in terms of total quality management. This reflects the efforts made by Japanese manufacturers towards improving quality and productivity. The baseline for this type of innovation is continuity in problem solving.
Notably, continuous incremental innovation can be well implemented through platforms. It entails the creation of “space and stretch” around an innovation, depending on the establishment of concrete platforms that can be extended. Through this process, a lot has been achieved in enhancing and augmenting the performance of organizations (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 28). This has been widely witnessed in steel making and chemicals. For instance, the service industry has opportunities, which allow tailoring of applications for better use without tempering with the initial design. Moreover, platforms can be applied in several sectors and are not limited to a single segment of the innovation process. Platforms are therefore considered to be reputable ways applied by companies to improve the quality of their investments.
This is concerned with answering the question of what happens when the game changes. In almost every society, innovation is usually implemented within boundaries that are defined by rules, which allow players to do what they are used to but in a different way to achieve better results. Even though management effectiveness may differ from one player to another, innovation rules always remain unchanged. However, this situation may experience changes, detaching the framework from known rules of the game (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 29). Although this does not happen frequently, it creates opportunities and challenge for existing players to reshape their ideas based on new conditions. This type may occur when the society experiences new technology in the market or through the emergence of a distinct market that has new opportunities and expectations. As mentioned before, the emergence of new markets and adoption of new technology are common causes of innovation discontinuity (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 30). Besides these, new political conditions may affect innovation space through change of rules and ideologies. Other factors include “running out of road,” deregulation and change in market behavior.
Under this, innovation is perceived as elements that change at the component stage or overall change of the entire system. An example of this is networking of computers to run a business or internetworking through web to connect with other computers and drive bigger businesses. In this case, innovation exists at every level even though it differs as long as the systems are different. It is essential to underscore the fact that innovation entails knowledge, which is described through possibilities that bring together various knowledge sets (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 36). This may concern technical attention or specific configurations to enhance a talent need. Importantly, knowledge about components is essential in realizing successful innovation management. When change occurs at high level, this may not be well reciprocated since existing channels may be incapable of supporting the expected results.
The innovation life cycle
In the understanding of innovation, it is crucial to appreciate the fact that innovation opportunities change with time. For instance, the internet or nano-technology has a host of products, which can be used to carry out research. However, most industries and organizations shift their focus to position and process innovation, in search of ways that are cheap and flexible in delivery of products and services. In the event of a discontinuous state, the fluid phase equally exists, with uncertainty inclined towards the target and technical aspect of exploiting new technology (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 40). By the fact that no one knows the exact configuration of technology and market needs, most entrepreneurs engage in experiments, which may be achieved after several unsuccessful attempts. Stages of innovation include cost reduction, low cost and high quality, high production and process innovation, capital products, and efficiency.
Although research findings indicate that incumbents are prone to acute suffering during discontinuity, not all players respond in this manner. Many have the ability to stabilize through various channels and opportunities. Additionally, new entrants are usually exposed to extreme situations, which may hinder their survival. As a result, individual involvement is pivotal for survival. Under this state, management plays a crucial role in either promoting or undermining the success of an organization. In addition, good practice is imperative, though it may be used against the arrival of the fluid phase. Despite the above sources of discontinuities in innovation, management seems to be the greatest challenge (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 41). Certain organizational behavior is necessary to guarantee success and this may include flexibility, ability to learn fast, agility and the absence of prejudgment regarding the outcome of the process. Well established players in the field may also demonstrate this type of behavior, even though they may experience conflicts within their working and thinking. It is also alarming that the two major causes of discontinuity, say, new technology and new market usually emerge from outside (Tidd & Bessant 2009, p. 42).
This chapter has discussed the concept of innovation in the context of its meaning, challenges and benefits, and has created new and unique perspectives towards it. From this, it is clear that innovation is a major process that requires recognition and management to allow the renewal of an organization to better performance.
Tidd, J & Bessant, J 2009, Managing Innovation: Integrating Technological, Market & Organizational Change, John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey.