Innovation and Chocolate Chip Cookies

During the 2013 PTC Live Global event in Anaheim, CA I was able to make it to a morning keynote by Curtis Strong, the Director of New Product Development at Britax. His presentation discussed the fundamental differences between process & innovation, known results & experiments, recipe & discovery. He talked about how true innovation doesn’t come from following a process. It’s unpredictable, which can be frustrating, but with good systems in place and adherence to timeless principles a company can successfully tackle and profit from real innovation.

At the beginning of his presentation, Strong compared innovation to a chocolate chip cookie. Each year people come up with “new and improved” chocolate chip cookies. Are those cookies innovative? Strong’s argument was “No.” They’re tweaking a recipe. It’s easier to build off previous innovation than it is to be truly creative. The real innovator was Ruth Graves, the person that made the first chocolate chip cookie.

Ruth Graves didn’t have a known result. I can imagine there were a lot of failures, flops, and a very messy kitchen. With each failure something is learned. After gaining, capturing, and applying knowledge you eventually get the winning result; a proven recipe.

True innovation is more achievable when the right systems and principles are in place. Product development methods like Lean product development and technologies like Windchill PLM and PDM provide an environment where innovation can flourish.

Have you or your company ever been the innovators and the first into a market that didn’t exist? Let me know in the comments.

BONUS: Here’s an adorable Britax commercial that Curtis showed during his presentation. It doesn’t have anything to do with innovation, but I figured it’d be a nice distraction on a Friday afternoon. You’re welcome 🙂