Nurturing innovation and entrepreneurs

21 October 2014

At a recent conference, Roland Bent, executive vice president of product development and marketing at Phoenix Contact, spoke about the power of innovation and how to nurture an innovation culture.

Innovation is often attributed to high functioning products where it is easy to see technology innovations.  However, it is innovation in the very simple things that are really changing the world and I believe that this is where the real essence of innovation lies – in seemingly simple products that offer innovative solutions to problems.  

For example, one of the simplest products in terms of functionality offered by Phoenix Contact is the modular terminal block. This was created 85 years ago and since then has become a base element for all kinds of connections for data signals for power in electrical installations. Today, we can offer six different connection technologies and over 500 different versions of the base terminal blocks. Many thought that this simple product could not be developed any further. However, innovation is very often in the detail and if you carefully watch what your customers are doing, and how they use your products and where they use them you will see what challenges face your customers.  Often the customer will not come out and tell you what their problems are, as they have probably learned to live with them… however watch carefully and you will experience their pain. 

Terminal block innovation
Five years ago Phoenix Contact introduced a new terminal block innovation – push-in technology – which requires 60% less plug in force to fix the wire into the terminal.  If you have ever tried to plug wires into 100 terminal blocks in a cabinet you will understand the benefit that this offers the installer. It makes their lives easier and can save 40% on installation time. This was certainly a game changing product for Phoenix Contact. Bringing new ideas to a very old technology has led to us gaining a huge market share.
This really is the essence of innovation – finding out about the little things that would help your customer and creating better solutions.
Innovation originates with the people inside an organisation that have an innovative attitude and this requires an intrinsic and continual innovation drive. Within Phoenix Contact, for example, no one was tasked with creating a better terminal block… the idea came to life as a result of our people watching our customers and feeling their pain and having the drive to try and create a better solution.  

Achieving such an innovative attitude in an organisation requires good leadership… of course we still need processes and roadmaps… but it is essential that we have leaders for innovation in a company. 

Innovative leadership
If an organisation wants to think innovatively its leadership also needs to do so. Innovations are driven by people – creative and motivated people who are ready to take risks. Innovation leadership can build on the qualities of its employees. We need to develop and shape innovative attitudes and to help people achieve a more motivated attitude. Only someone that feels they are able to change something will be willing to try and change it.  We need to encourage entrepreneurship.  You cannot command it! It is a culture that needs to be developed and nurtured. 

Just one example: Phoenix Contact has a zero-defect culture in the area of production – it accepts no failure here… In the innovation process, however, it is vital to allow mistakes, otherwise you will never find the best solution. We need to continue to nurture a culture of innovation and to embed this attitude into the workforce – to create entrepreneurs.  Then we are in a good position to react even to small market impulses and to develop innovative solution to meet customer needs.

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