March 22, 2011 in Business

Buying into innovation

Upcoming three-day workshop aims to equip businesses with the confidence to think big
By The Spokesman-Review
 
J. Bart Rayniak photoBuy this photo

Accra-Fab President Greg Konkol, left, Director of Quality Barry Wikle, center, and Director of Manufacturing Kevin Clark will be attending the Innovation Engineering Leadership Institute in Spokane in early April.
(Full-size photo)

On the Web

For information on the Innovation Engineering session, go to innovationengineering.info/ washington/agenda.php.

Greg Konkol is the CEO of Liberty Lake firm Accra-Fab. The 200-person company is faring OK, managing to get by in a rough economy. It makes high-quality, quick-turnaround sheet metal products for companies in health care, electronics and telecom industries.

But Konkol knows Accra-Fab’s future depends on operating smarter. Smarter, for Accra-Fab, means better ways to make products, and improved systems that help the company cut costs and find new customers.

So Konkol has signed up himself and two executives to attend a three-day “innovation boot camp,” presented by Doug Hall, a Midwest inventor and business guru.

Konkol wants his team to come away charged and inspired to do what it takes to keep Accra-Fab competitive and profitable.

But he’s not looking to come back with brainstorms that will rock his business and wow customers. He’d love to ingrain the spirit of steady innovation into his company.

“We all love game-changing innovations. But you don’t necessarily have to have that big idea to win,” he said. “You can score runs by hitting singles and doubles.”

The Innovation Engineering Leadership Institute will be held April 4-6 at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park. Hall will be the main presenter. Impact Washington, a nonprofit group that helps companies across the state, is the sponsor and will provide coaching services.

Nigel Moore, vice president of Impact Washington, said this is the first time Hall’s company, Eureka! Ranch International, will present its three-day workshop in the state.

Moore and Patric Sazama, the Spokane regional project manager for Impact Washington, attended a Eureka! Ranch innovation session last summer and came away impressed.

“It really focuses on helping people lead innovation in their companies,” Sazama said. “One of the key steps is learning how to fail fast, fail cheap,” he said.

To use the baseball analogy, Hall preaches that companies should swing for singles and doubles, not wasting a lot of time and analysis trying to develop large projects that take a lot of effort and buildup.

Companies should focus on small, bright ideas and get them quickly to market, learning even if they fail, according to the Eureka! Ranch system.

The session here takes three full days because the process means really absorbing some key elements needed to develop a culture of innovation, said Eureka! Ranch session leader Maggie Slovonic.

Days one and two are devoted to introducing Hall’s “three C” philosophy: create, communicate and commercialize. “It’s a journey, and we start with how do you create ideas,” Slovonic said.

Along the journey, the session gives participants a wide range of tools and ideas to play with, including a set of ideas developed in Russia, called TRIZ. Slovonic, who leads that session, said TRIZ has been described as “40 principles that are said to be able to solve all the world’s problems.”

By the third day, the participants are asked to put it all together in a culminating simulation. Teams have to develop a product and take it to commercialization.

The interest in innovation is widespread, but the irony, she said, is most firms don’t know how to innovate. “Fear is high right now and about 85 percent of our business leaders are reacting in how they manage,” she said.


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