Not Invented Here

"What can a hospital learn from a hotel? What can a car manufacturer learn from the video game industry? What can a chemical company learn from a festival organizer?"

- Not Invented Here, page 12

Not Invented Here by Ramon Vullings and Marc Heleven is an inspirational book about the way to draw analogies and transfer approaches between contexts, beyond the borders of our own industry, sector, area, or domain.

The authors are two cross-industry innovation experts and training facilitators. They help companies to look beyond the borders of their domain to innovate in a smarter way. They believe there are positive alternatives to many of the challenges we face and that more elegant solutions already exist somewhere else, yet they are not recognized as a possibility. In Not Invented Here, they invite us on a quest called cross-industry innovation in which we will learn not only to think outside the box but mostly outside our own industry.

The book is a very well designed visual tool with lots of short sentences and pictures, and can be read chapter by chapter or even in a random way in order to maximize inspiration in the moment.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Someone Else Has Solved Your Problem

"No one lives long enough to learn everything by starting from scratch."
- Not Invented Here, page 56

When people encounter an obvious solution to a problem, or meet an entrepreneur who came up with a brilliant new value proposition, they often think to themselves, “why didn’t I think of that before?” In the same vein, someone else has most likely been working on a challenge similar to whatever we are facing.

There could be a not invented here syndrome that blinds us from seeing the way people addressed the situation in another context, but the key is to find this other person and steal like a great artist (to use the words of Picasso).

The books provides many examples. If your challenge is to build smaller yet more multi-functional teams, you can discover insights by looking at how a submarine crew works together. If your challenge is to build a better hospital experience for children, you can get inspiration from amusement parks. And if your challenge is to optimize maintenance costs versus risk management, why not check what best practices low-cost airlines are using?

As you can see through these few examples, this way of proceeding goes beyond the product itself and covers the entire spectrum, from the operational organization to the customer experience.

When looking for inspiration, we tend to limit ourselves to our own knowledge, our team’s knowledge, our company’s knowledge,  and our industry knowledge. The fact is that there are three others that can give us a complementary and different vision if we seize the opportunity to explore them: non-competitive industries knowledge, all knowledge, and the unknown.

As we can only connect the dots that we collect, a good way to proceed is to use our knowledge network. Social media and open innovation platforms are the most common tools. We can ask a question on Twitter using the hashtag #daretoask or join LinkedIn groups from other industries that inspire us. We should also look for experts in our own organization—you might be amazed to discover untapped expertise, as people usually don’t ask enough questions.

And if you need to be convinced that such a way of thinking can lead to great results, remember that Owen Maclaren—a retired aeronautical engineer and test pilot who worked on the Spitfire—developed the first foldable lightweight baby buggy using the concept of an airplane’s retractable landing gear.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Remix your Industry

"No candle maker has become a bulb manufacturer, no carriage maker has become a car manufacturer and the post office did not invent email."
- Not Invented Here, page 177

The authors have identified 9 ways to disrupt our industries:

  • Make shortcuts
  • Challenge existing rules & regulations
  • Reduce complexity dramatically
  • Combine various types of innovation
  • Remove one crucial element
  • Cut prices by 90% or more
  • Do the opposite
  • Do impossible things
  • Blend and navigate business models

The idea behind is to disrupt our industry, or better…disrupt another industry.

As an example, challenging the existing rules and regulations is what Uber and Airbnb are doing. Some competitors complain, but there is chance that some rules will not survive, the original ideas behind the taxi and hotel industries become more obsolete. The best way to survive is to adapt.

Removing one apparently central element is another way to challenge the way we do things in a specific industry. Cirque du Soleil removed the animals, Dyson removed the bag in the vacuum cleaner and self-driving cars will not have steering wheel anymore. It sounds strange in a first approach, but it allows you to redefine the value proposition and add some differentiation.

Blending business models is another way to disrupt an industry. Airbnb business model applied to cars produces BlaBlaCar. We can also imagine the IKEA for road construction or the Uber for pizza delivery.

All these ideas are inspiring ways of disrupting an industry without necessarily changing the product. If we don’t think about ways to disrupt our own industries, we are vulnerable to competitors thinking ahead of us.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

The Art of Questioning

"For cross-industry innovation we wish to create organizations which have a culture of inquiry. Therefore, we need people to ask more powerful questions."
- Not Invented Here, page 39

Cross-industry innovation starts with asking more and better questions. Powerful questions are thought-provoking and have the power to surface underlying assumptions. Below are some beautiful ones:

Why don’t rules have expiry dates? Why do they give you a Jaguar for a test drive but you can’t sleep in a house you want to buy? Why can I buy advertising space per centimetre yet I can’t buy variable leg room in an airplane?

Beautiful questions include common features. They refuse to accept the current reality, invite outsiders to ask questions about our work and our industry, imagine perfect situations and challenge everything.

The initial question is a good start. Then we have to transcend it and ask “why?” or “what is the purpose?” which will bring us to a higher level of conceptualization. From this helicopter view, one can move sideways and redefine the question in a cross-industry way, and think about the way other industries addressed similar questions and implemented solutions already.

Asking questions is the best way to learn, and inquiry enables us to organize our thinking around what we don’t know. This is the way to great discoveries.

This book particularly makes sense when used in a workshop or other group setting. Indeed, I’ve found it more useful to consult when I’m seeking inspiration, as opposed to reading it straight through.

I am using it right now with a group of more than twenty people in order to build an open innovation program in a company and this is the right tool to stimulate the group’s creativity.

There are some prerequisites in order to be able to use it with maximum efficiency. You first need to build a safe place in which everybody can express their thoughts and ideas as crazy as they would be without fearing criticism or judgment. Second, open mindedness is a required attitude for all participants. Once both conditions are in place, there are no reason that this book could not allow you to skyrocket the creativity of the whole team.

How could your remix your industry? Did someone already solve your problem? Which beautiful question could help you achieve it?

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Jean-Marie Buchilly

ABOUT Jean-Marie Buchilly

Jean-Marie is managing a new product development team in a Swiss company that builds connectors. He is also passionate about wine and organizes events to share his passion with as many people as possible...
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