I heard Steve Liguori tell an amazing story about industrial innovation at GE the other day. He was speaking at a Work-Bench event about disruptive innovation – something we’ve all heard a lot about. And he had a new take on the subject in the context of rethinking how to run a big company. How? “Learn to beg,” advised Steve. “Try disrupting your culture.”
The first step is a full-time person – a passionate advocate with consummate skills in marketing, persuasion – calling on key decision-makers, finding the ones with a big problem for GE customers and an open mind about how to solve it. That’s the begging part.
Steve at the time was Executive Director of Global Innovation and New Models at GE. The problem he found was a seriously overweight jet engine part – the engine bracket – and as there are many of them, their weight has serious implications for fuel use.
Steve must have mastered the art of persuasion during the years when he headed marketing at blue-chip consumer goods companies. I marvel at the heights to which he’s taken this to have done what he did. He got GE management to agree to go outside the company to crowd source redesign of the jet engine bracket!
Collaborating with GrabCAD, a Cambridge startup, GE sent a challenge with heavy duty specs for blueprints to GrabCAD’s global community of more than a million engineers. From this, GE received nearly 700 ideas, picked and tested the top ten thoroughly, and announced the winner – a design that cut the weight by 84 percent – from 4.48 lbs. to 0.72 lbs. Who did it? An engineering student in Jakarta with zero aerospace experience!
Imagine trusting GE’s brand for industrial innovation to engineers outside the company! Imagine finding a solution beyond GE’s ability from a student in Indonesia. It’s audacious! It’s brave! And I suspect crowd sourcing will be increasingly important in the future!